The oil, gas and coal industries are moving towards more and more extreme sources of fossil fuels – these techniques are increasingly dirty and dangerous.

In many parts of the world, the easy to access oil, gas and coal resources are running dry. So as global demand grows, the fossil fuel industry is pushing into resources that are harder to extract. This can mean drilling in water thousands of feet deep or mining for tar sands in Canada. It can mean drilling in the fragile and remote Arctic oceans or leveling entire Appalachian mountain tops to access coal.

Extracting these resources is extreme because of their life cycle impacts or because of the heightened risks of accidents that they entail.

BP’s Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico was a chilling example of the risks of ultra-deepwater drilling.

Extracting oil from the tar sands is one example of the increased impacts of extreme oil extraction in which land is devastated to access the oil and vast quantities of energy are used to both extract and process this high carbon energy source.

Fracking is another example of oil and gas extraction taken to the extreme. In the old days, a well was drilled straight down and oil and gas were pumped up. Now to get at less accessible oil and gas, wells are drilled thousands of feet down and then thousands more across requiring horizontal drilling. Then thousands of pounds of water, sand and chemicals are pumped down the well to fracture the rock that holds the oil and gas. Each well is fracked several times to boost production. Rapid decline rates require that drillers frequently move on to new locations within the field to begin the process again in order to maintain production levels.

The move into extreme fossil fuel resources is partly driven by increasing demand and dwindling supply, but it is also driven by unrealistic and unsustainable forecasts of energy demand that completely ignore climate change. It is a particularly worrying trend because as billions of dollars of capital are expended opening these resources for extraction we are locking in a supply of fossil fuels beyond which we can afford to burn.

Oil Change International focuses its work on extreme fossil fuels on:

We have also written several reports for the investor community on investment risk in extreme oil extraction.