Saturday, March 24, 2012

Shale Oil Revolution: (Laissez Faire) Capitalism Deals Peak Oil a Fatal Blow

I used to believe in peak oil. That all changed when I got immersed in Austrian school of economics. I have come to realize that we are dynamic, and not static, beings whose actions are driven by time and value scale based incentives in response to the changes in the environment and to social developments. In other words, human action is what drives economic values of goods or services.

And given the opportunity or the right environment or a society tolerant for experimentation that rewards success and penalizes failure, people will find ways and means to employ resources in a more efficient manner in order to improve on our current unsatisfactory conditions.

“Peak oil” as a social phenomenon, and not in the engineering sense, is about to be vanquished [unless socialists cloaked as environmentalists succeeds to put a political kibosh on this sunshine industry].

The phenomenal pace of advances in engineering technology has been intensifying the Shale Oil Revolution

From the New York Times Green Blog, (bold emphasis mine) [hat tip Professor Mark Perry]

The revolution in production in Texas and across the country is partly tied to the rising price of oil over much of the last decade, which propelled aggressive technological experimentation and development. (Government encouragement over the last several administrations helped as well.)

Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have been around for years, but over the last five years, engineers have fine-tuned these and other techniques, even as many environmentalists worry about their impact on water and air.

Computer programs have been developed to simulate wells before they are even drilled. Advanced fiber optics permit senior engineers at company headquarters to keep track of drillers on the well pad, telling them when necessary where to direct the drill bit and what pressure to use in injecting fracking fluids. Seismic work has become far more sophisticated, with drillers dropping microphones down adjacent wells to measure seismic events resulting from a fracking job so they can more accurately determine the porosity and permeability of rocks when they drill nearby in the future.

Just a decade ago, complete wells were fracked at the same time with millions of gallons of water, sand and chemical gels. Now the wells are fracked in stages, with various kinds of plugs and balls used to isolate the bursting of rock one section at a time, allowing for longer-reaching, more productive horizontal wells. A well that once took two days to drill can now be drilled in seven hours.

For instance, when the Apache Corporation began drilling in the 100,000-acre Deadwood field in the West Texas Permian basin in 2010, there had only been a trickle of production there. The deep shale, limestone and other hard rocks had potential, but for years they had not been considered economically viable. The rocks were so hard, they would have likely sheared off the usual diamond cutters on the blade of any drill bit attempting to cut through.

But new adhesives and harder alloys have made diamond cutters and drill bits tougher in recent years. Meanwhile, Apache experimented with powerful underground motors to rotate drilling bits at a faster rate. Now, a well that might have taken 30 days to drill can be drilled in just 10, for a savings of $500,000 a well.

“By saving that money, you can spend more on fracking, which translates into more sand and more stages and better productivity,” said John J. Christmann, the Apache vice president in charge of Permian basin operations.

All these serves as empirical evidence of how the price signaling channel sets in motion entrepreneur’s incentives to fulfill market demands through the employment of savings or capital accumulation in shaping the fantastic advances in technology (in spite of the numerous government interventions) in a market economy.

As the great Professor Ludwig von Mises wrote,

What distinguishes modern industrial conditions in the capitalistic countries from those of the precapitalistic ages as well as from those prevailing today in the so‑called underdeveloped countries is the amount of the supply of capital. No technological improvement can be put to work if the capital required has not previously been accumulated by saving.

Saving—capital accumulation—is the agency that has transformed step by step the awkward search for food on the part of savage cave dwellers into the modern ways of industry. The pacemakers of this evolution were the ideas that created the institutional framework within which capital accumula­tion was rendered safe by the principle of private ownership of the means of production. Every step forward on the way toward prosperity is the effect of saving. The most ingenious technological inventions would be practically useless if the capital goods required for their utilization had not been accumulated by saving.

The entrepreneurs employ the capital goods made available by the savers for the most economical satisfaction of the most urgent among the not-yet-satisfied wants of the consumers. Together with the technologists, intent upon perfecting the methods of processing, they play, next to the savers themselves, an active part in the course of events that is called economic progress. The rest of mankind profit from the activities of these three classes of pioneers. But whatever their own doings may be, they are only beneficiaries of changes to the emergence of which they did not contribute anything.

The characteristic feature of the market economy is the fact that it allots the greater part of the improvements brought about by the endeavors of the three progressive classes—those saving, those investing the capital goods, and those elaborating new methods for the employment of capital goods—to the nonprogressive majority of people. Capital accumulation exceeding the increase in population raises, on the one hand, the marginal productivity of labor and, on the other hand, cheapens the products. The market process provides the common man with the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of other peoples’ achievements. It forces the three progressive classes to serve the nonprogressive majority in the best possible way.

As seen from the shale oil revolution, the illustrious economist Julian Simon has been right anew, human beings have indeed been the ultimate resource.

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