One point which can’t be made enough about unconventional oil production is that it uses a TON of water.  Fracking, tar sands, shale all require water to work and a lot of it.

So even if it’s true that we have more than enough hydrocarbons to fry ourselves (as long as we’re willing to pay a premium for it), it’s a trade-off with water.  More oil = more water use.  Hydrocarbons are also key in agriculture, both for machinery and for fertilizer.


This problem has been thrown into sharp relief recently because of the California drought. On top of Nestle bottling water in California, agribusiness growing water intensive crops, fracking is draining resevoirs and aquifers as well.

This problem is going to continue. In coastal regions and continental regions which aren’t blocked by mountains, it’s at least theoretically possible we could move to desalinization plants on a massive scale, build canals, and move the water inland. But desalinization is still an extremely inefficient technology and canals running essentially uphill also require huge expenditures of energy.

Water, oil, agriculture, and suburban expansion (eating into naturally productive farmland which doesn’t require huge supplies of water from elsewhere) are all related issues.  We’re looking at genuine water shortages in large parts of the world as well as dust-bowls: Expect to see them in India, China, the US, and elsewhere.

There are solutions to these problems, but we should have been moving towards those solutions decades ago and we weren’t.  As a result, a lot of people are going to suffer and die who needn’t.

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