Water is the New Oil


Okay, you might not be able (yet) to run your
car on it, but oil is at the moment a universal need. So is agricultural and
potable water. We can painfully accept shortages of oil, either by price
increases, alternative fuels or conservation. But fresh water is essential to
life itself and from there, allow me to draw certain conclusions.
 

The energy business
should be looking over its shoulder at such disruptive technologies as solar,
wind and thermal. A disruptive technology
is one that one that displaces an established technology and shakes up the
industry.
Kodak faced one with the arrival of digital photography and it
not only shook them up, it effectively destroyed the company.


A May 25, 2015 Guardian newspaper headline reads: Oil company bosses’ bonuses
linked to $1tn spending on extracting fossil fuels.
Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, Total and BP
pour funding into projects to unlock oil reserves – despite scientists warning
they will lead to climate change disaster
. That headline may (or may not) cause
you to draw in your breath, depending upon your environmental views.

 

But it set me thinking
about major oil companies recognizing
a disruptive train at the other end of the tunnel and doing something to ease the pain. Because pain is surely coming in
the fossil-fuel industries, whether it be in the form of a drop in oil prices, environmental
decline or a world gone electric. 
There are two ways
Big Oil might choose to ease itself on through a disruptive period: invest
heavily in alternative energy sources or find a new and untapped natural resource.
The latter may be the safer bet, because Big
Oil is late to the game in renewable resources and dominance in agricultural and potable
water lies waiting at their feet. Plus the timing is right. 
California (the
world’s 6th largest economy) is facing a water-shortage disaster and
Chevron or Exxon coming big-time to their aid would be seen as America at its
best and a heroic act. 
It’s been a long time since Big Oil has been looked
upon as a hero. What an overwhelming public-relations opportunity.
Consider these
contexts: 
Desalinization is the
only route available that could make a significant impact at the moment but it
would take enormous financial resources to achieve. Big Oil is cash rich and
scared to death of a decline in oil prices. So they have those enormous financial resources and the motivation to move toward dominating
another market. Disclaimer: I’m not anxious to see freshwater domination
by a single industry, but I’m very
anxious to see a major move toward desalinization.
Oil is harder and
harder to find and retrieve economically. Four-fifths of the planet is water
and it’s there for the taking. World population centers tend to stay close to
oceans (if they have one available) and Big Oil knows how to do pipelines where
needed. Fresh-water pipelines pose no
environmental threats. The oceans are rising, not falling and you don’t have to
drill for seawater.
Big Oil also knows
how to build refineries and (in my admitted ignorance) I presume desalinization
is both less complicated and expensive than refining.
The need for
fresh-water will never decline, as the need for oil will certainly taper off. It’s
in the cards and the deck is stacked in favor of renewable energy. Certainly, in any
case, oil is a finite resource.
That pretty much outlines my ideas for controlling
this particular disruptive technology
that threatens a major industry. Get out in front while there is still a front
to get out in and become your own
disruptive force.
Anyone at Big Oil interested? Probably not,
but they should be.

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