A useful little point about new technology and searching for natural resources

New, advanced techniques for drilling oil have revolutionized the domestic oil industry in North Dakota in ways that couldn\’t have even been predicted just a few years ago, and will likely also open up new oil production in other parts of the world in the near future (like the Alberta Bakken in Canada) that also would have been unimaginable before this year. That\’s one reason that \”peak oil\” is peak idiocy: it always underestimates the ultimate resource – human capital (i.e. human ingenuity and the resulting innovation, advances, new technology) – which is endless and boundless, and will never peak.

OK, that might be just a tad Panglossian, but there\’s an interesting little point underlying it.

When we work out some new technology, allowing us to exploit something like this Bakken field, this doesn\’t mean that we can now simply and only exploit this one Bakken field.

We can now explore the entire world for similar fields: in effect, the new technology opens up half a trillion square kilometers for resource extraction again. We\’ve, in one rather specialised meaning of the the phrase, opened up a new and entire Earth to exploration.

The same is true of the frakking process for natural gas.

The same is true of the (although of course this isn\’t a great example to use) of the drilling of the Macondo field. By, for the first time, drilling to 5 miles below the crust, we\’ve opened up that entire half a trillion km2 again to drilling 5 miles down.

We haven\’t, in any of these three technological advances, found just one more field of oil or gas. We\’ve created new Earths to explore for deposits that can be accessed using these technologies.

Yes, sure, there really are physical limits to the resources we can dig out of the ground. But the limitations, at least in any relevant sense, aren\’t the limits to such resources that exist: it\’s the technologies we have to get at them.

7 comments on “A useful little point about new technology and searching for natural resources

  1. But the limitations, at least in any relevant sense, aren’t the limits to such resources that exist: it’s the technologies we have to get at them.

    It’s not even that: the political obstacles to oil and gas exp0loitation dwarf the technological and geographical limitations.

  2. Thank you, very nice posting. New tools open up new opportunities for production worldwide.

    Of course it is the new tools for making new tools that really open things up. But new tool-making tools come from truly innovative minds — more of a rarity these days, thanks to factory mass production of drone minds in public sector union-controlled educational systems.

  3. So the actual make up of the physical world doesn’t really matter all that much, right? I mean it’s really just an undifferentiated mass of stuff to be used as fuel in our ingenuity engines. Cool.

    But what I want to know is: Who the f*ck is sitting on the Philosopher’s stone?

  4. Paul that would be the “environmentalists” who are preventing us powering the world by transmuting uranium. Actually that is far more than the original imaginers of the philosopher’s stone ever thought of.

  5. > Yes, sure, there really are physical limits to the resources we can dig out of the ground.

    Not really. The way I always put this when arguing with yet another person convinced that “resources are limited” is to say no, stuff is limited; resources equals stuff times ingenuity; and ingenuity is unlimited.

    We can now get more energy out of a cubic metre of thin air than our recent ancestors could get out of a ton of coal. Talk of “resources” simply makes no useful sense if you’re using it as a synonym for “stuff”.

  6. > “We can now explore the entire world for similar fields: in effect, the new technology opens up half a trillion square kilometers for resource extraction again.”

    Nitpick: I think you mean half a billion sq. km., not half a trillion. The formula for surface area of a sphere is 4 * pi * r^2, with r here being about 6400 km.

    Those billions are of course the “thousand million” billions, and not the old British “million million” billions.

    So perhaps we should say “half a milliard sq. km.” so as not to confuse people. 😉

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