The Deluge

Rapidly advancing technologies are opening up astonishing sources of oil and gas all over the world. We are entering a new era of fossil fuels that is reshaping global economics and politics—and the planet.

OIL SEEPING TO THE SURFACE of the lazy Kern River, just north of Bakersfield, California, first caught James Elwood’s attention in 1899. The state was in the midst of an oil boom, and Elwood wanted in on the action. He rounded up a few relatives, got some picks and shovels, chose a patch of sun-baked earth near the river seep, and started digging.

Forty-odd feet down, they switched to an auger, and punched down another couple of dozen feet. Oil—trapped in the stone’s pores for millions of years—began oozing into the crude well.

The strike made the front page of the local newspaper, and brought other prospectors rushing to the Kern River. Within a year, 130 wells had been dug. Drillers pumped the black muck to the surface and hauled it away in barrels borne on mule carts. By 1904, more than 47,000 barrels per day were flowing forth, nearly matching the production of the entire state of Texas.

Kern River oil is particularly thick and viscous, with a consistency like molasses, which means it doesn’t flow easily. Analysts at the time predicted that the difficulty in extracting it meant they could get at only about 10 percent of the total that lay underground. By the early 1940s, oilmen had hauled 278 million barrels out of the field, but production was in steep decline; the most accessible oil was gone. Kern River seemed close to being effectively tapped out.

Read More : PacificStandard



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