Friday, June 03, 2005

Peak oil will be a non-event

I seem to be getting a lot of mail lately about the phenomenon known as "peak oil" -- the prediction that we have consumed half of all of the oil available on the planet, and will consume the other half quite rapidly. For example:And:And:And so on.

Wired magazine chimed in last week with this article:On June 5, FX first broadcast its new documentary called "Oil Storm: America's Lifeline has been Severed," which discusses a scenario where a slice of America's refining infrastructure fails and leaves us in a place where we suddenly do not have enough gasoline. [There is a trailer available on the FX home page]

The FX scenario is actually something to worry about. In the U.S., because of market forces, supply and demand for oil are almost perfectly balanced. If a rogue hurricane or rogue terrorists were to take out several refineries, America does have a problem. The way to fix that is to recognize that oil is as important as oxygen to the American economy right now. We need to build 10% to 20% extra oil production capacity to handle an emergency like this (despite the fact that it is "economically inefficient" to do so). Whether or not we have the foresight to do that is an open question, but it is strange for the U.S. to have a Strategic Petroleum Reserve without having "Strategic Refinery Capacity" as well. We need to do the same thing for electricity, roads and several other vital resources.

But ignoring a catastrophe like that, what about peak oil itself -- the idea that the U.S, Europe, China, India, etc. will be burning through the planet's remaining oil reserves quickly (say in 50 years) causing massive price spikes in the very near future? What will happen?

Personally, I don't think anything will happen. I look at "peak oil" in the very same way I looked at the "Year 2000 crisis" in 1999. "Peak oil" will be a non-event. We will see prices for gasoline go up, yes, and there may be some short term spikes that are a little disruptive, but overall I believe we will work this out in a natural way.

The very simple explanation for why this will happen can be summarized in about 15 words: As oil gets more expensive, other technologies will compete on price and replace oil.

Here is the simplest example. Right now, in 2005, we are about to reach the point where you can buy a tanker car full of soybean oil for about the same price as a tanker car full of diesel fuel. With a very simple reactor you can turn the vegetable oil into biodiesel. That puts a cap on the price of diesel fuel. Petroleum diesel prices cannot increase much above the price of biodiesel, or people will stop buying petroleum diesel.

A naysayer would point out, "But that will cause the demand for vegetable oil to rise, which will increase the price of biodiesel." True. But within a year farmers around the world can be growing more soybeans, which will increase the supply. People will start buying efficient diesel hybrid cars and trucks as the price of biodiesel stabilizes. The demand for petroleum will decline.

That sentence "People will start buying efficient diesel hybrid cars and trucks..." is important. Right now we are using incredibly inefficient vehicles. When you burn a gallon of gas in your car, maybe 20% of the energy in the gasoline gets turned into motion. The rest turns into useless heat. That leaves a lot of room for increasing the efficiency of cars. So if the price of gas doubles, we can switch to cars that get double the gas mileage, and the price increase in gasoline becomes meaningless.

There are so many technologies available for producing energy. Most of them are not quite economically viable because oil is still quite cheap. But as oil prices continue to increase and head toward $100 a barrel (which could happen within a year or two without too much trouble), all of these technologies start to become viable. Here are some examples:In other words, there are so many new options that become available as oil prices rise that we will simply replace oil with all of these other technologies.

One question, which has been asked by many people in many places, is this: why don't we accelerate the process by artificially increasing the cost of gasoline? (This article explains that in China, where energy prices are held artificially low, people waste a lot of energy -- "every kilogram equivalent of coal only produces a gross domestic product of $0.36 in China, vastly lower than Japan's $5.58 and the world average of $1.86.") The advantage of artificially increasing gasoline prices is that it would make all of these new technologies viable more quickly while, potentially, reducing global warming.

To summarize -- rising oil prices will make other technologies economically viable. There are hundreds of other technologies to choose from. Normal economic pressure will naturally cause oil to become less and less important to our economy. That is why I am not worried about "peak oil".

[See also this Follow-up post on peak oil which talks about how simple it would be to supply all of America's energy needs with nuclear or solar energy. (See also )]

Comments:
Whether it is true that other technologies will definitely be ready for the big time, in time, your analysis points to an interesting observation:

On the basis of this it's pretty obvious why the oil producing companies have a cartel to ensure oil prices do not rise too high...
 
It all still revolves around profit, and those motivations will drive the new technology long before a shortage or emergency situation will.
 
I agree with Marshall 100% - while oil may run out, possibly soon, the dire predictions of the peak-oilers are silly; modern society is not going to come crumbling down. Instead, alternatives will be found. There may be a period of great turmoil while these alternatives are brought online - wars, famine, etc. - but even if these do occur humans will adapt and advance as they have done for the past several hundred years (or past several hundred thousand years, depending upon how you want to look at it).
 
Good post Marshall. I have been following this topic since you posted about it about a year or so ago.

Unfortunately when you search for "Peak Oil" you get a lot of sites that have an extreme negative viewpoint. This unfortunately leads people to reading them first, thus more likely adopting this viewpoint.

Hopefully this post gets indexed higher in Google then www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net and the others...
 
I hope you are right! That technology can rise to the occasion, like the y2k issue, and unlike in the case of other needs not answered - like worldwide clean water, enough food, a cure for cancer, etc.

There is also the concern that the fertilizer for those abundant soy beans (nitrogen from natural gas, also peaking) will not as cheap and available as it is now for growing soy, and hundreds of other essential crops.
 
The difference between Y2K and Peak Oil is that, as an aggregate, government and corporate entities made a concerted effort to address the issue and spent billions of dollars in hiring extra coders, importing visa programmers, contract coders, specialty software to help diagnose and address the problem and create the "workaround solutions".

The problem was a lot messier than some people have claimed, though not on a scale that the doomsayers and "flee to the country" folks were preaching. At the time, I worked a 24x7 shift around the clock for a major charge card company and will tell you flat out there were big problems, and much was swept under by PR staffs and legal teams who didn't want to leak out that they had kinks and gllitches. However the problem wasn't as big because of:

* The proliferation of client/PC systems that replaced mainframe systems. Most PC/UNIX systems were immune (though not all) to Y2K issue, it being primarily a mainframe deal, mostly centered on COBOL code and databases that only kept 2 year digits for a date (and in past years I worked on systems that only kept 1 digit for year!). Particularly troublesome were database keys that used "nines complement" to store dates (for instance, May 1996 would be represented as 0394. This was used in hierarchical databases with child db segments to ensure that the first "node" was the most current month (billing applications).

* Many companies had already embarked upon a campaign to move their systems to relational models or purchased systems from IBM/EDS to replace systems that would have went kaput in 2000. Billions of dollars were spent in this effort for replacement systems more flawed than the original. For example, a power company I consulted with, for 5 years, kept a team of 50 folks employed to just "patch" database entries due to a problematic conversion, where some customers did not receive a bill (including me) for more than a year.

* Not all "Y2K" problems manifested themselves in 2000. In fact, I worked on a project in 2000 to address a big isssue with 2001 - that is, dates received on charge capture submissions could be variable 6 digit format (YYMMDD or MMDDYY or DDMMYY) and logic that could properly guess what the correct format was needed reworking as the presence of '01' in the year rendered that useless.

OK, so I've spoken more on Y2K than I wished, but back to the point I want to make -- companies and government, slow at first, readily ramped up preparations to forestall such problems. Some companies did not and went out of business. Many systems crapped out, but lawyers and PR staff worked diligently to put a good spin on those and keep the public in the dark on whether or not it was due to Y2K.

I don't see the same effort to addressing the current problem. I respect you greatly, MB, but a review/study of all the prominent voices in the field (geologists, etc., except those shilling for corporate interests) says there is going to be a problem at some future point, perhaps not for another 20 or 30 years, and that all of the other solutions that you allude to (with the exception of nuclear, which entails problems of a different sort - what to do with the waste...), are net energy losers at this time (except for wind, but I'm not sure wind could ever provide a bulk of our power needs, unless we return to power consumption levels of a previous age).

Additiionally, developing nations in Asia are rapidly increasing their usage of petroleum, and in some of those countries, shortages are already persistent occurences.
 
Y2K and Peak Oil do have some differences. For one the global bill for Y2K came in at over two trillion dollars. Two Trillion! Once the problem was identified we knew the deadline: midnight 1999.

The difficulty with PO is that there won't be any specific "moment." And that will be the problem with mustering the troops to action. "Thats sometime in the future. We will have figured out alternatives by then." seems to be the sentiment of many. "Because oil will get more expensive that will force people to get off their duffs and do something." is another theory I've heard over and over again.

If you do enough digging and start to realize the sheer volume that oil represents regarding the worlds available energy (that we currently know how to access) one must have a great leap of faith to assume that we will find timely, sufficient soultions. The Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times." may be beginning to materialize right before our eyes.
 
There are many salient differences between Y2K and Peak Oil. The most obvious is that Y2K was an information problem, not a resource depletion problem.

I respect Marshall for having pointed out all of the alternatives listed above, but I don't think he realizes how much we really do with petroleum. We depend on petroleum for a lot more than driving our private automobiles. All of the listed alternatives would have to be built using existing technologies that depend on fossil fuels. Current transportation, agriculture and manufacturing all depend on inexpensive fossil fuels. Growth economies depend on growth in fossil fuel production. Innovation arguably depends on a growth economy.

Unlike modifying a database ro recognize a 4-digit date, a windmill requires metals, plastics and concrete; and it has to be moved to a site and be connected to the grid. It would be difficult to produce a meaningful number of windmills without the use of fossil fuel.

I don't share the lifeaftertheoilcrash.net view that society will collapse the week after we his the global production peak, but we will see enormous changes in our economy and probably our way of life sooner than Marshall suggests. Humans are very adaptable, but we've enjoyed really inexpensive oil worldwide for about the last 20+ years. Consequently we haven't thought much about what we might do when we start to understand that it really is a finite resource.

It's going to be a difficult transition.
 
You're right on the mark Marshall.

From an economics perspective, there are no resources to be scarce.

Before the Arab oil crisis in 1973, the average car got 9 mpg. Within 10 years cars were getting 22 mpg. ie: we effectively more than doubled the amount of oil in 10 years! Replacing $300 carburetors with $30 electronic fuel injectors played a big role in this. A 10X cost savings, resulting in twice the efficiency and half the pollution.

We already have the technology to make a 100mpg+ car and many other radical technologies are waiting to be thought of. My favorite is those who speculate about a 500mpg bio-diesel plug-in hybrid.

Even if oil production drops off by 5% a year, we’ll quickly use less. Best of all we’ll be inhaling fewer fumes on the way to work, and we won’t have to buy anything from the Saudis.

Keep your fingers crossed for $100 oil ASAP.
 
Pray for $100 oil?

Why would anyone welcome $100 oil unless they had a well in their back yard?

Look, transportation only makes up 20% of the usage of oil. We're not just talking about the average joe having his fuel bill for his car double we are also talking about those that have to heat homes, businesses, provide feed stocks for industries, pharmceutical manufacturers, the plastics industry, pesticide production, agri-business, etc, etc, etc.

We are clearly on our way towards $100 oil but you had best pray that the road is gradual. You want to breath less fumes on your way to work? If gas were to go to $100 tomorrow there is a strong likelihood that you would not have a "work" to go to.
 
And there's coal. I seem to remember reading recently that coal can be turned into oil with a production cost of about $32 a barrel. If the conversion plants are built. But I don't remember the reference. That may seem economical now, but even today, investors can't be sure that oil will stay above that price. The history of oil is fraught with wild price swings.
 
If gas were to go to $100 tomorrow there is a strong likelihood that you would not have a "work" to go to.

lol. You're kidding right?

By the way, according to the IEA, oil use in transportation is 78%. ie: freight(25%) + travel(53%). The data is a little old(1998), but if you have an alternative data source showing otherwise, I would like to see it.
 
How can you "artifically increase the cost of gasoline" ?
 
For the very long term its got to be Nuclear. All fossil fuels will eventually be used up no matter what the price.

The next round of Nuclear Plant building needs to be done smarter. First a place to put the waste before its created. All plants probably should be the same so that upgrades and fixes can be done to all when required. Training would be simpler also.

Energy requirements continue to climb. Unless we face up to the problem while there still is abundant oil energy we might not be able to create the replacement technologies.
 
Marshall,

Thats an interesting post - but I don't believe peak oil is in the same class of problems as Y2K was.

A lot of peak oil people look at alternatives in terms of their EROEI (Energy Returned On Energy Invested) and base a lot of the bearish predictions on the fact that energy production per capita peaked quite a long time (around 20 years) ago and none of the alternatives to oil have anything like the EROEI that oil did in the past (oil's EROEI has steadily decreased as its become more difficult to find - deep sea oil has a much lower EROEI than oil that spurts out of holes in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and Iraq).

This doesn't mean that life will necessarily come to an end and industrial civilization will crumble (though you'll find plenty of people predicting exactly that - dieoff.org is a compendenium of this sort of analysis), but when presenting a list of replacements the most important thing to do is to look at exactly how much energy can be gleaned from a particular alternative with an EROEI of > 1 (otherwise you're just wasting valuable energy).

It would be interesting if you did a follow up post the considered the following points:

1. The world's energy demands continue to grow (particularly in India and China), and per capita usage of energy in these emerging economies is currently much lower then the smaller populations in the West. They will compete with western countries for oil (and other energy) reserves that are about to become less available.

2. As we pass over the peak oil point each year we will have less oil based energy available (subject to minor dips and bumps).

3. There are tradeoffs in terms of how much energy can be extracted from each particula sources (biodiesel is a good example - how much spare agricultural capacity can be used to grow material for creating biodiesel without causing famine in poorer areas of the world) - how does this compare to the amount of energy we currently get from oil ?

4. There may be limits to how much in the way of energy savings we can gain from conservation before the economy is seriously impacted.

5. There are no doubt limits as to how much efficiency can be gained in our energy usage - and retrofitting the economy to become more efficient will also use additional energy then continuing to use existing infrastructure.

6. Nuclear fission has depletion issues as well (uranium is no more renewable than oil is unless commercial breeder reactors become the norm) - is this really a long term alternative (ignoring waste disposal problems) ?

7. Methane hydrates may be the single most effective means of making the planet uninhabitable due to runaway global warming - are they really an alternative ?
 
Drew, from an economics perspective, shouldn't the $30 fuel injectors have been in use already? The economics perspective is most useful when competition goes towards perfect, which doesn't seem to be the case in an industry of a few giant corporations. I'd guess that the increasing competitiveness of Japanese manufacturing was more critical than the increase in oil prices.
I don't see why people debate the hypothetical though. In Europe most people pay twice what we do for oil without appearent starvation etc.
If all the oil wells simply went dry, that would screw us over, but in the real world that won't happen suddenly.
 
[quote]Hopefully this post gets indexed higher in Google then www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net and the others...[/quote]

I entered this link into wikipedia to achieve just that.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_oil

(scroll way down to the blog section)
 
You wrote: "...The very simple explanation for why this will happen can be summarized in about 15 words: As oil gets more expensive, other technologies will compete on price and replace oil. "

A typical comment from a flat-earth economist. Perhaps you should consider that the earth's resources are finite.

Our economy is based on perpetual growth underpinned by cheap oil. It has enabled the human population to grow at a fantastic rate. However, there is only so much of it in the ground and sooner or later we will reach peak!

To believe that some miracle technology is just around the corner to save the day is more delusional than us folks that fear the Peak Oil scenario.

Do you realise just how much effort is required to change our whole infrastructure to one that is not based on oil? Ironically, would vast amounts oil not be required to do that ?!

Look around you - recent events should give you a clue as to what is on the horizon. I don't see Western governments scrambling to develop and implement a new wonder technology.

I see nations squaring up for the next big battle - control of the remaining oil!
 
"Our economy is based on perpetual growth underpinned by cheap oil. It has enabled the human population to grow at a fantastic rate. However, there is only so much of it in the ground and sooner or later we will reach peak!"

Talk about yer flat-earth way of thinking. Why the ad hominem attacks? Who are you, Michael Ruppert??

Paradigms have shifted many a time in the past. They are shifting at the moment we speak. They will always keep shifting in the future.

Wasn't London supposed to be covered in 3 miles of horsecrap from horse-driven buggy's or something?

There is no need for any miracle technology. Plain technology will do just fine. And as you can read in Marshall's post, there's plenty of stuff to look into.

The world will do just fine. The Universe does not behave in a certain way just to keep going along a bunch of extrapolated numbers. The peak oil doom scenario exists only in charts displaying a Hubbert peak. And charts like these do not map accelerating technology. They do not display 'the big picture'.
 
You are entirely too sanguine in your assessment. "Technology" and "free markets" are not magical panaceas that solve all problems -- if they were, why is there still so much trouble in the world?

None of the alternative energies you suggest have the energy density and the easy portability of oil. Only natural gas comes close and it is also a fossile fuel. Do you realize uranium ore is a finite resource as well?

How is biodiesel going to take over for petroleum when farmland has been vanishing for more subdivisions? How much farmland do you propose to take away from global food supply for this? Do you have any idea how many petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers are used in industrial agriculture? Do you imagine that your soybean-powered car culture of the future is even remotely sustainable?

Are you going to use solar panels to propel cargo ships across the ocean? Slap a few windmills onto a semitruck to keep your "warehouse on wheels" transoceanic globalized economy going?

"We'll think of something. The market will provide." Famous last words. Why save for tomorrow when you can burn, burn, burn today?
 
If you split the difference between the optimist and the pessimist in this thread, and I think we will, there is still room for a lot of ... displacement.

The market solution to oil depletion may indeed yield solutions, but it comes after high oil prices.

And high prices are enough to shake up a lot of businesses. To name just one, what happens to your tourist industry when jet fuel doubles? Will a 767 run on ethanol? ;-) etc.
 
Marshall,

Perhaps you are overlooking the possibility that the awareness, and perhaps even panic over peak oil might well be critical to driving market solutions.

After all, tonight you can probably see $1m worth of SUV and pleasure truck advertizements on television. The message to the general public is still "Buy big and hulking -- it's FUN!"

Now, the solution to Y2K required a tiny fraction of the population -- a few thousand specialists to solve. The issue of Peak oil will not be solved by a few months of overtime and delivery Pizza, and it will affect every person in the developed world.

Your list probably does contain the keys to post-oil energy, (my favorites are Wind and Photovoltaics) but I don't understand exactly how the modern spreadsheet-driven free market will magicaly solve for a smooth and comfortable transition when each of those individual spreadsheets is written to solve for maximum profit. (And for at least one division of GM that requires the sale of 10,000 lb SUVs.)

Maybe we should just think of it as another wave in the business cycle. A Big wave. Okay, maybe a tsunami.

J.
 
I have great respect for MB, but I think many people have their head in the sand here.

If the earth is a closed system, and for the most part it is (save for the sun, which we'll get to in a moment), then you can't get something for nothing. Your soybean tanker...did you fill that tanker up using nothing but soybeans? By that, I mean did the factory used to mine the iron of the tanker's skin come from soybean power? Does the truck/train used to haul the tanker run on soybeans? Did the water pumps that supplied the soybean field run on soybeans? Did the tractors that harvested the soybeans run on soybeans? Did the machines that extract the oil from the beans run on soybeans? Do you understand the cyclical and recursive problem here? Oil, I've read, has something like a 30:1 ratio of energy output to energy input. Any other forms of energy are a fraction of that, say 3:1 for the best of them. You can't get something from nothing.

As a last comment, it took the earth millions of years of energy input to create this positive energy surplus. As we burn it off, we're simply going back to zero, for a net gain of - you guessed it, zero.


As for the sun, we need something that is 30:1 efficient. Make a solar cell or a windmil with out a drop of oil. I challenge you to do this. Now, make millions of them.
 
There are some fundamental problems with your assessment that others have pointed out, but none has touched on the most fundamental of all and that is your definition of Peak Oil.

It is not that we will quickly use up the second half of the available oil.

PO means that we have reached the peak of production, T Boone Pickens was probably right on when he said that 82 million bbl/day would be the most oil that ever comes out of the ground on any one day. It looks like he was right.

Aftre that point, the total amount we can pump will decline. The rate at which it will decline depends on many variables. In fields that have been over pushed through clever but unintelligent technologies like water injection, the reduction is steep and sudden.

The Saudis, for example, have been pushing the Ghawar field in such a manner; it also happens to be the biggest field on the planet. Its failure would be catastrophic

But even given the best case, falling production will not only drive up fuel costs but every cost dependent on oil, food, all products of any kind.

Western economies are wholly dependent on oil that is BOTH cheap AND plentiful, change either of those factors and there is trouble.

Western, debt enabled economies, are also absolutely dependent on growth to pay off the debt at some time in the future, an economy dependent on growth generated by cheap plentiful oil will find it very difficult to fund the transition, both in financial and energy terms, regardless of the ingenuity of the scientists and businesses in it.

Someone remarked the other day that the competition for oil will not be a problem for the US because the US economy will be more than able to afford higher oil prices than, say, the Chinese.

Until the Chinese decide that lending the US money to buy oil in competition with Chinese needs may not be the best deal for China; perhaps it might use some of the billions it has in US$ enominated debt to buy the oil itself, in US$, in competition with the US, and stop lening it the money.

We'll never pump the last of the oil because, at some point down the curve, and a long way before the bottom of the well, the EROI passes 1:1, long before that we stop because the effective EROI, including refining, shipping and other overheads on producing the oil for the end user, will pass 1:1.

Oh, then there are markets that discount the future into the present. Once they see $100 oil on the horizon, they will price it in to the present, driving down the present value of oil dependent stock (guess how many) and making it even harder to raise the capital to fund the transition.

And last of this rant, complex systems do not degrade in a linear fashion, they stretch, then they shift phase, we have no possible way of predicting when that will happen, but right now people with your perspective are determined to keep right on stretching.
 
Erik,

I never meant to imply that a windmill can be bootstraped from its own electrical output, I fully expect that coal and oil will be consumed in the construction. I think that's a better use of energy than draining ANWAR to drive to Walmart in our Escalades.

My reason for prefering wind power (Aside from the way they look) is that once they are going, there is no consumable fuel cost. Also, the tower doesn't really wear out, so even after the design life is reached, the moving parts can be replaced or refurbished on the original tower. (The tower will be one of the high energy input components, both for fabrication and erection.)


A V90-3.0 MW offshore wind turbine has to produce electricity for just 6.8 months, before it has produced as much energy as used throughout its design lifetime. In other words this turbine model earns its own worth more than 35 times during its design lifetime.


Moon of Alabama

Wind can reach 35x EROEI, at 1x per 6.8 months. With near zero operating emmisions. I'll bet that the 6.8 months is significantly reduced for the case where the tower infrastructure is re-used, 30 years down the road.
 
Jay,

I'm not sure whether to label you a lemming or the messiah.

I had no idea that we were already saved! Business As Usual.

I feel comforted that we can continue swallowing up the earth's resources at an exponential rate.

We can even help developing countries match our level of comsumption. McHouses and SUV's for everyone!

Why stop at 6.5b folks on the planet. Hey lets go to 10, 20!

There is no stopping us. If we start to run out of oil then we'll just instantly switch over to wind powered cars and have mini nuclear substations in the basement.

I'v decided - I think you're a lemming.
 
Anonimous,

Ad hominem ad nauseam.

Jay
 
"... Who are you, Michael Ruppert??"

Likewise
 
"In other words, there are so many new options that become available as oil prices rise that we will simply replace oil with all of these other technologies."

I felt this same way until I took the time to do some research, speak with some of the PO pundits, (like Dr. Smalley), and consider the scale of hydrocarbon energy and it's impact on almost every aspect of human civilization.

It's a perplexing question indeed, and by no means well understood.

But like a visual illusion, applying our common perceptions of scale, fails to characterize the dilemma we face.

As Dr. Smalley pointed out to me, when making comparisons between oil and alternatives, remember that oil is wonderfully dense as an energy source, and flows naturally from a straw poked into the ground.

Difficult to duplicate.

However, he also stressed that we should try. Describing it as our duty to future generations.

I share his dedication to finding "the next oil", while remaining a skeptic that humanity will allow a transition absent violence and poverty.

Aaron Dunlap
http://peakoil.com
 
Your article is rather dangerous I think. If Peak Oil is going to be such a non-event why are so many intelligent people getting worked up about it? I think you are showing a well-hidden arrogance by dismissing the arguments. By saying repeatedly..'if you don't like this try this..' you are being frivolous and are trivialising a very difficult issue. I'm sure many countries will try some of the things you mention but there is no alternative energy infrastructure in place or even close to being in place and it is NOW that matters.
So many of our ecosystems are showing signs of strain...you do not even mention the importance of fossil fuels for industrial agriculture. Are you really so sure that we will follow the growth path to infinity?
Many people have praised your article but I would judge it fundamentally non-serious. You do not really address the complexity of our society but rely on fallacious economic-techological analyses. Anyway I'm off outside to work on our vegetables. Say hello to your robots from me.
 
May I suggest two resources? Both are physicists. One is now the the vice provost of Caltech. His name is David Goodstein. A recent article regarding his thoughts can be found here:
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4287300/

I would recommend after you read this article Google his name and read throught some of his published papers.

The other source can be found here:
http://vmsstreamer1.fnal.gov/VMS_Site_03/Lectures/Colloquium/050413Koonin/index.htm

This will take you to an hour long lecture given by Steve Koonin. Oddly enough, Koonin is currently the chief scientist for British Petroleum but was also afiliated with CalTech serving as Provost.

Here's the irony. Koonin works for "big oil." As such he should be rosey and overly optimistic. He is not. Neither is he an alarmist but... he is concerned.

It all boils down to timing folks. Will we belly up to the bar in time enough to affect they types of changes that we will need to make? Interesting question. From the exchanges on this forum my hunch is probably not. The reason being is that too many don't think there's a problem. There is an old Talking Heads song with the line: "Forgot the trouble...That's the trouble." Well, we haven't even recognized the trouble. And that's the trouble
 
Koonin site in previous posting cut off. Please try here:

http://vmsstreamer1.fnal.gov/VMS_Site_03/Lectures/Colloquium/
050413Koonin/index.htm
 
Sorry,

I'll try one more time.
Koonin sitr here:
http://vmsstreamer1.fnal.gov/
VMS_Site_03/Lectures/
Colloquium/
050413Koonin/index.htm
 
I'm not sure if it has been addressed, but "Peak-Oil" is a bit misleading.

The ammount of oil in the ground is not the same as the ammount we expect to extract. Currently, only 30-35% of oil in an oil-field can be expected to be extracted. This is a function of cost.

Because of this, as prices increase, so does the effective oil supply. It might be cost effective to pursue other sources rather than spend the extra cash to extract extra oil. It is a matter of profit.

So "using up half" our oil makes no sense. Using up enough such that it is not worth getting more, now that makes sense.
 
Cost can mean two things, dollar cost and energy cost.

If you need the energy of 2 barrels of oil to recover 1 barrel of oil, then the well will be running at a net energy loss. Recovering the hard to reach oil costs more energy, not just more dollars.

There are today wells that trade more electrical energy for less oil energy because of the storage and portability of oil. All you can do with dollars is buy some other energy to use to extract oil energy.
 
Well, Mr. Brain, it's all well and good to present your faith-based solution to our future energy dilemma. I'd like to see your calculations however. Please show me how any combination of the alternatives you presented will provide the net energy necessary to replace oil as it depletes. And don't forget to provide enough energy for the economic and population growth necessary to prevent economic chaos, resource wars, and famine.

The key here is net energy. Your fairy godmother can't save you from decreasing net energy, and neither can economic ideologues.
 
I debated whether to comment or not after my initial post in response to this article...

I think this all boils down to whether or not see the glass half empty or half full. Quite literally.

I believe the goal here is to cut out both the optimistic and pessimistic approaches to Peak Oil and take the middle road. There are going to be issues, but given it's past record, humanity is going to survive. Maybe we will come out of the whole ordeal more technologically advanced or set back, but I have no doubt that the world will survive.

What I think is interesting is that if you ask both the pessimist and the optimist what they think of Peak Oil, you will get the same answer.

They both think they are realists.
 
If we don't get screwed over oil we will screw ourselves with global warming or water resource wars. Humans are so stupid.
 
"But within a year farmers around the world can be growing more soybeans, which will increase the supply..."

People also have to eat....

At the end of the day, we have to adjust towards living on an energy supply that's provided by the Sun every day; that's the asymptote we have to head for.
 
The falacy of the "peak Oil" doesn't matter arguement is that the components of nearly every other system Marshall talks about are possible because they can be produced cheaply with oil. As energy prices go up, regardless of source, the cost of everything goes up. This means our constantly expanding economy will no longer be able to expand as it has, and will in fact retract. This will lead to global economic depression which likely will kill millions of people. The gravest danger of "Peak Oil" is not the slow affects of decreased commerce; but rather, the immediate affect of stupid government. The US government is not designed to tell people no, it is designed to spread pork, and keep citizens happy and stupid. If the lifestyles of the hypnotized masses are threatened, then the lifestyles of rich politicians and their friends are threatened. The only possible course of action is to take the oil militarily to "preserve our American way of life." Therein the danger lies. I fear "Peak Oil" will lead to resource wars that kill hundreds of millions both directly and indirectly. Can you see Bush, or any politican of equal caliber, telling the American people conserve and let the American lifestyle adjust to a new standard? Ain't going to happen.
 
Sorry to blow your "pie in the sky" theory about soybeans, but most of the decent land to grow them is already in production, and the increases in productivity over the years have been relatively slight. Also factor in that it takes a lot of energy to produce them, process them, etc and they just don't stack up against merely pumping and processing black gold. Also, the fertilizers needed to grow them need to be transported and are much less abundant than they were during the "Green Revolution". Ethanol is even worse to consider, as natural gas is the starter for the nitrogen that farmers use to get the big yeilds.
Sorry, but we won't be able to grow our way out of this one. Nuclear powered cars, anyone?
 
Despite the low probability of this discussion going very far I think its important from an informative perspective. Individual humans view of the world and technology is often very narrow due to specialization and due to this I think poking holes in each others often trivial ideas is more important than it would appear on the surface.

We can solve our energy needs for tommorrow and much of the solutions have probably been around for some time. If you look at any technology the roots of most of it are very old sometimes decades. The main thing holding the technological solutions we need back is not necessarily money or energy resources its human resources and time.

I see a fundemental belief here that our energy needs will grow exponentially in the future as a function of technological growth and population growth this sounds simply incorrect to me.

First of all the point of technology is that it delivers an increase in effeciency. Secondly, population growth and its resulting energy needs are not on a spiral to infinity. Population declines with industrialization despite the normal increase in lifespans due to costs and education leading to lower birth rates. Technology can come in many forms not just robots and computers, but so-called third world tech that helps us better understand nature and rely less on some of our modern high-tech energy ineffecient methods, which may rely on fossil fuels.

The reality is that there are optimal solutions to individual problems and that no one technology is a universal solution. In some cases electric solutions will be most effecient and in others various chemical solutions including in some cases earth extracted and/or man made fossil fuels for some time to come.

I think there is a lot of negativity and that many believe there is nothing that can cheaply replace the energy density and portability of fossil fuels. I also think there is also a lot of fear of nuclear technology due to ignorance. The electrical infrastructure in the US is very good and it is relatively efficient and will remain so whatever the primary energy sources we hook to it. Possibly even more importantly the development of cheap energy efficient computation is going to carry us a long way using that system and most of the infrastructure needed to do so is already in existence today much of which is being squandered and thus so are our fuels.

The biggest problem as I see it is humans are not always very good at connecting and integrating the many mostly little known technologies available to us around the world into solutions. Thus our reliance on and need for advanced communications and computational technologies. Many of the technologies that MB covers actually will reduce our energy needs vastly and others increase our energy extraction abilities.

Adding up the positive and negative sides of our technologies to find the net energy effeciency is an impossible task and rather than attempting to do the impossible we need to focus on individual solutions to our problems one at a time. I my opinion there are to many people that just need to pick a problem and get off their fat lazy western ass and get to work.
 
I have read a little on Peak Oil and tried to find the statistics that prove that we are indeed running into Peak Oil quicker than expected. Current estimates by oil engineers seem to be around 2005/9. This seems to be pretty likely - afterall no oil company (or for that matter oil producing country) is going to declare world peak oil.

The statistics speak for themselves - no increase in tanker capacity, no increase in world refining capacity? Surely if oil consumption is increasing for the next 30 years then shouldn't they be building. The reason is that oil companies know that this is peak oil now and building more ships and refineries is not going to help.

So you still don't believe peak oil has happened - well lets look at the facts. Saudi Arabia promised to make up for the Iraq short fall but they have had problems and are maxing out at around 12Mbpd - they simply can not supply any more than that - even more seriously I have heard reports that they actually are lowering output... When the price is $56 why would they do that... Simple they are finding it difficult to pump out more oil.

The Iraq war.. no WMD's, certainly no terrorists (well not before we invaded anyway)... there are plenty of other 'evil' dictators - some even worse than Sadam. There is only one reason to go into Iraq OIL....

Of course there are alternatives - but the US is consuming more not less. France & Germany for example are consuming less oil now than they did 30 years ago... The alternatives will be costly and will NOT produce the amounts we need for our current consumption. So something has to give...

And finally for those final few who really can't believe this will happen - think back a few days before 9/11 - if someone told you that the pentagon, and the twin towers would be hit by planes would you have believed it? No I think not.
 
"I also think there is also a lot of fear of nuclear technology due to ignorance."

Some people are afraid of nuclear technology due to ignorance, but some of us are more afraid of the people implementing the technology cutting corners to save money, etc. The industry's safety record has not been admirable, and one can't just sweep a nuclear spill into the corner or wash it down the drain, and forget it afterward.
 
I can't believe gas hydrates got mentioned as an alternative fuel. Do you want us all to roast to a crisp because if you us these deposits as fuel then global warming will be unstoppable.
 
Some facts to keep in mind: the all-powerful market can not and will not solve this particular problem. Oil is finite, and no amount of demand will increase the volume in the reservoir. Better technology has only resulted in our depleting the resource more quickly and thoroughly. Growing demand and less availability has resulted in something few of us have ever witnessed: a comodity has broken free of the supply/demand model, and is no longer subject to market forces.
 
"The peak oilers are wrong to say that society will crumble... but there will be a transition"

you say potato isay potato, dismantling an entire system of life and rejigging doesn't happen overnight. transition is a very cowardly and naive description of the era we are entering
 
Steve, I'm afraid you're wrong several oil majors have mentioned peak oil including Exxon. http://www.alwayson-network.com/comments.php?id=10471_0_5_0_C

I met the European head of Exxon in Brussels at the EU Stakeholders forum on sustainable development and she was well aware of not only the problem but also the implications.

Look at http://dieoff.org

Another problem is that once the peak occurs and the financial system melts down (Because it's incapable of contraction) then building any infrastructure to replace this current one becomes an order of magnitude more difficult. Fractional reserve banking cannot weather this particular storm and without the banks we go into cascading systems failure. Try Googling that and the "Olduvai cliff event" which is slated for 2007
 
Hello,
Reading your explanation of why peak oil is going to be a non-event only makes it very clear that you have not truly read much about peak oil. If it were just the rantings of a few nuts then I'd agree but this is not the case. There are hundreds of very informed people and quite a considerable amount of information discussing problems related to peak oil. Only a small amount of it relates to "collapse" but rather a lot of it provides information about research into alternatives already. Reading this info and doing a deeper investigation than something off the top of your head paints a picture where quite simply soybeans and nuclear while useful are not nearly enough to keep us anywhere near are current usage - even if you could magiclly change over at no cost immediately. I've been studying this with interst for quite some time and I find new info all the time and none of the stuff I find that is based on reality (ie. not some quack theory) seems to be supporting the idea that this isn not a problem. Oh well, maybe Wall St. can solve the problem just like they did for the war on drugs...
 
A very few of the 70,000 products that are manufactured using petroleum as a raw feedstock:

Ink
Dishwashing liquids
Paint brushes
Telephones
Toys
Unbreakable dishes
Insecticides
Antiseptics
Dolls
Car sound insulation
Fishing lures
Deodorant
Tires
Motorcycle helmets
Linoleum
Sweaters
Tents
Refrigerator linings
Paint rollers
Floor wax
Shoes
Electrician's tape
Plastic wood
Model cars
Glue
Roller-skate wheels
Trash bags
Soap dishes
Skis
Permanent press clothes
Hand lotion
Clothesline
Dyes
Soft contact lenses
Shampoo
Panty hose
Cameras
Food preservatives
Fishing rods
Oil filters
Combs
Transparent tape
Anesthetics
Upholstery
Dice
Disposable diapers
TV cabinets
Cassettes
Mops
Sports car bodies
Salad bowls
House paint
Purses
Electric blankets
Awnings
Ammonia
Dresses
Car battery cases
Safety glass
Hair curlers
Pajamas
Synthetic rubber
VCR tapes
Eyeglasses
Pillows
Vitamin capsules
Movie film
Ice chests
Candles
Rubbing alcohol
Loudspeakers
Ice buckets
Boats
Ice cube trays
Credit cards
Fertilizers
Crayons
Insect repellent
Water pipes Toilet seats
Caulking
Roofing shingles
Fishing boots
Life jackets
Balloons
Shower curtains
Garden hose
Golf balls
Curtains
Plywood adhesive
Umbrellas
Detergents
Milk jugs
Beach umbrellas
Rubber cement
Sun glasses
Putty
Faucet washers
Cold cream
Bandages
Tool racks
Antihistamines
Hair coloring
Nail polish
Slacks
Drinking cups
Guitar strings
False teeth
Yarn
Petroleum jelly
Toothpaste
Golf bags
Roofing
Tennis rackets
Toothbrushes
Perfume
Luggage
Wire insulation
Folding doors
Shoe polish
Fan belts
Ballpoint pens
Shower doors
Cortisone
Carpeting
Artificial turf
Heart valves
CDs and DVDs
Lipstick
Artificial limbs
Hearing aids
Vaporizers
Aspirin
Shaving cream
Wading pools
Parachutes
 
I've been looking into peak oil for about a week. (It was mentioned in my local paper . . .) I'm no expert, but I think the world will survive. That said, I am little worried about small bumps for most of the world being big bumps here in the States.

For example, my family lived in Germany for several years and conservation is already a way of life there. In the small town where we lived there was (already in place) a functional infrastructure with local farmers providing local food.

Here in the US, we don't have small infrastructures that work together to make larger units. The orange juice I drink is grown in California or Florida. In Germany, I drank wine grown in a field I could see from my window. These are small examples, but a look in my refrigerator and a thought about high costs of transport makes me very nervous.

If there are interuptions in supply, and erratic shifts in demand we might fare much worse here in a small town in Pennsylvania than we would have in a small town in Germany.

I hope that by the time oil becomes a very high priced luxury, we have caught up with the Europeans. If we don't we may slide away from being the world's richest nation.
 
"as oil gets more expensive, other technologies will compete on price and replace oil."

Confusing energy profit with financial profit is a common mistake, there is no technology or technologies currently known that can support our current economic model in the absence of cheap oil.

The technologies mentioned in the article will not replace a fraction of the current exponential growth in consumption. This is the thrust of the peak oil dilemma, when global demand exceeds global abilities to produce, refine and distribute energy economic growth is impossible. Only a decade or so ago, the Chinese were predominately riding bicycles now through globalization they are driving cars. 5 years ago global consumption was 68 million barrels a day, now it is 84mbpd. I believe 84mbpd is the peak, 3rd and 4th quarter projections are for 86mbpd global demand.
 
Yup, it's awfully sunny in here.

Expecting 'the market' to magically solve this problem is almost criminally naive. Reading this entry made me realize that you really have not done one lick of research regarding the true implications of peak oil. None of the energy sources you listed even approach a fraction of the current energy needed to sustain modern industrial production, where transnational shipping and 'just in time' delivery are the order of the day.

This is not even to mention the fact that even if these sources did generate an equivalent amount of energy, there are certain things that they are simply impractical for. And even if they WERE practical, retrofitting our entire infrastructure to run on a different energy source is something that will take decades, not just a couple of years.

When the peak hits, it is going to hit hard. The world is currently using around 75-80 million barrels of oil a day. Current expansion in India and China makes this projection around 120 million barrels a day in 2020. Now, consider the world only used about 4 million barrels a day before World War II! That's just a colossal amount of energy being used - and no one is going to seriously look at alternatives (glib PR about wind power from energy companies notwithstanding) until it is too late. A world that used 4 million barrels a day might have a chance of bringing some other source online, quickly - but a world that is probably going to use around 100 million barrels a day is a different story.
 
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
 
Fossil fuels, as a cheap and easy energy sources, came on line right on time to replace human slavery. Now they are dwindling. We will soon not have the stored solar energy of millenia and will only have the real solar energy we can collect from one day to the next.

Nothing Marshall and others have proposed are much more than pipe dreams. Nothing short of an Einsteinian leap of knowledge is going to change that.

It is pathological to indulge in the magical thinking that technology and the marketplace will solve this issue.

If Marshall and the rest of you smart people don't start dragging this issue into the nation's top 10 priority lists, we are in for a very, very big problem.

I am glad to see Marshall touch the topic. That is useful for a few days of consciousness raising. I would hope that he would dig into it deeper and help take it to a much higher level.

All of you who read this can help, too. It is of the greatest importance.

peakoil.blogspot.com
 
"Nothing Marshall and others have proposed are much more than pipe dreams. Nothing short of an Einsteinian leap of knowledge is going to change that."

As Marshall clearly shows, the technologies already exist today.


"If Marshall and the rest of you smart people don't start dragging this issue into the nation's top 10 priority lists, we are in for a very, very big problem."

There are enough peak oilers already. Thanks to them, other people won't have to put in their time and energy making this known to the world.

The world knows, and is doing something about it. Well... at least my government is. I don't know about other countries, but it's safe to assume they know about it as well. The peak oil idea has already reached the top.
 
Non-event, small bump, trust the market... you fing 'tards. Well, oils at $60 and going nowhere but higher. So instead of arguing, let's talk in a couple of years. Fools.
 
Faith in market driven technology to avert this imminent change stems from some basic points of cultural ignorance. This deficit drips with poignant irony seeing as we are citing and relying upon our progressive advancement to deliver a transition to currently unknown and unmanifest capacity.

These basic points of ignorance include:
The fundamental difference between energy profit and financial profit.
The nature and practical implications of entropy as a universal, existence threatening condition which our biosphere resists and which our market based technological endeavors actively promote.
The notion of technology as a provider of efficiency, which is only true within a narrow, usually commercially convenient, field of measurement. In fact it delivers increasing complexity (and fragility) across a system-wide spectrum of its implication. This is always energy inefficent in the crude terms we can understand and manage.

Until the advocates of human market-based innovation can bring an informed view of these physical fundamentals to the conversation their positon can be only intelligently considered useful as a narcotic. On a par with the Rapture as a redemption strategy.

Oh the irony. If only we could yeild energy from that abundantly regenerative human resource.
 
Throughout my quest to research peak oil I have come upon many that deny or even confuse the concept. Peak Oil has nothing to do with running out of oil and many have to do with the production.

When you look at the production of oil it has been shown to follow a bell curve whether it be the production of a well or a country or a planet it hold true(Huppert's Peak). At first you pop a straw in the ground and it gushes out under internal pressure (new well) but as it ages it accellerates in production until it reaches a plateau (Mature well). This plateau is peak oil, from ever moment there after it is that much harder to extract the oil from the well. Furthermore the oil that comes out is of less quality (heavy oil) and is harder to refine.

Many people speculate that given a system made up of all alternative energy sources that we still would have an energy gap if implemented. Most suffer from a problem scaling up these sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, and wave. Nuclear power plants require lots of time/money/oil to build which we don't have, not to even mention the radioactive byproduct that lasts for some 10,000 years. The more you look at it the more you realize how much energy we waste and that the future can only see a reduction of energy use (powerdown). Only a fool or an economist could believe that resources are not finite. Every year since 1982, we have used more barrels of oil than we discover.


This brings little light to all the wondrous problems that peak oil brings to the modern marvel deemed industrial agriculture (see green revolution). This essentially converts oil calories into food calories at avg. of 10oil/1food ratio through the use of chemical fertilizers/insecticides; motorize farm implement, plastic packaging, and shipping.

The USA is of course the most glutinous of these consumers, where 5% of the world’s population uses 25% percent of the world energy. Only being rivaled by China in its oil consumption but that is another story.
 
People (Marshall especially) do not comprehend the scope of energy usage involved in oil. A 1990 study found that there was 6.65 quads of biomass available in the US.

http://bioenergy.ornl.gov/resourcedata/3xresources1/index.htm

If converted (at 100% efficiency) to a energy source which could be used for transportation, it would replace a whopping 56 days of current oil use. That is EVERY BIT of biomass available

Lets talk about other possiblities. Oil energy usage is 3.3 times the current electrical generation in the US. We will not be replacing oil with an electric basis alternative. We would need either 10,000 nuclear reactors, or solar panels in an area equal to the state of California.

Plain and simple, our energy usage is going to drop in direct proportion to the drop in available oil. We will adjust or we will die.
 
Let the peak oil freaks stay on peakoil.com

Marshall- you have a great site here. Keep the doomer dummies out!!

Thanks.
 
What about the oil needed to lubricate all the moving parts of alternative energy production (e.g. windmills turning on oil-free bearings!) - and how does one get 'alternative energy' methods manufactured, on site, and up and running, using alternative energy methods?
 
What about the oil needed to lubricate all the moving parts of alternative energy production (e.g. windmills turning on oil-free bearings!) - and how does one get 'alternative energy' methods manufactured, on site, and up and running, using alternative energy methods?
 
I think that howstuffworks is a fantastic site and I have the utmost respect for MB for having introduced this to the world. I have learnt so much from howstuffworks. However, when it comes to the question of our current energy infrastructure, and the massive problems it is now facing, I am afraid that MB displays a level of naivety that is quite simply staggering. I first came across the whole issue of so called peak oil/natural gas. Since then I have immersed myself in information pertaining to the technical aspects of our current energy paradigm and the so called alternatives. None of these alternatives come even close to providing a replacement to fossil fuels. Fuels which not only gave rise to the industrial revolution but, more importantly, to the green revolution. Sorry, MB, but your mantra of the market and technology providing for the future and spewing out solutions just in time is nothing more than vapourware. You need to do more research. A LOT more research. Quite frankly, for such an obviously smart man, I am surprised by the lack of knowledge you display when it comes to this planets' energy infrastructure and how it impacts on every aspect of everyone's lives.
 
I hope you're right about Peak Oil being a non-event. However, simply posting a list of alternative energy sources on your website isn't really cutting it. Whole books have been written about how even the combination of our best alternative sources couldn't come close to replacing the amount of energy provided by oil globally.

Your argument lacks any real convincing content...kind of like overhearing something
at the bus stop, instead of actually getting an informed perspective on the situation.

My favorite post, though, is from Jason. After saying that "the predictions of the peak-oilers are silly" he goes on to say "There may be a great turmoil including wars and famine." These are exactly the predictions of the "peak-oilers" so where's the silly part?
 
The market will solve all... not.

Disrpution is not uncommon in the market place. While the market may in the end solve many problems, it may require a handy global recession or depression to give us all the time to invest and replace.

We are at a curious point in the evolution of humankind - in no other time in human civilization have we had the unique combination of events - globalization, dependence on (foreign) supply of a basic commodity, and a race to grow to the top of the dung heap.

Its getting harder to find the stuff in large amounts and what is left is in rather inhospitable areas. Going to be bumpy over the next 2 - 10 years.

Former big oil company employee.
 
It is wishful thinking to dismiss Peak Oil problems as "silly" or drastically over-stated.

The "catch" is this, of course: There will be no leadership for transition to alternate energy sources until the problem becomes critical. By then, fuel costs for the possible transition senarios will be prohibitively expensive.
The same catch applies to a "free" matket solution.
 
Chris said....

Peak oil will be a non-event.. because:

Fortunately, Americans have lead the way in oil wastage. As someone up there said: "We need BOTH plentiful AND cheap oil to sustain an American way of living".

The American way of living seems to require people to drive "Sports Utility Vehicles" with single passengers, to drive down to the local shops, and rush around in random directions.

It also requires the world's largest army to go around attacking people under the guise of energy policy, or boredom.

After peak oil, yes, you may find your standard of living eroded. You may have to put TWO people (*shudder*) in a car, or choose one that uses less fuel, or even WALK or BICYCLE to places (*arrrrrrh, despair*). This could lead to your "asses" decreasing in size and saving in hospital bills.

You may have to insulate your houses with some cheap glass wool.

You will perhaps have to stop keeping cattle in feedlots and feeding them on car fuels (soy).

You will perhaps have to use SUNLIGHT to dry clothes (*shlock horror*)

You will perhaps have to turn off lights, computers, aircon and heaters, when you aren't using them.

You will perhaps have to use solar hot water heaters, and buy fridges with insulation on them.

You will perhaps have to convert your cars to natural gas and use the 10,000,000 year's supply of Methane hydrates.

Personally, I'd be less afraid of the fossil fuel running out, and more concerned with what it does to glaciers in the Antarctic, and whether your house is on stilts.

But, thankfully, thin film solar technology and fuel cells are soon to bail us out... oh, and there's all the oil from Iraq as well, ... and the tar sand and shale oil deposits in...everywhere.

I think it will actually be good when the supercheap oil runs out, because then the price of oil will be more stable, and people will get the confidence to start investing in local solutions, and we could stop having wars over the booty.
 
Here's my biggest fear:

The 'leadership' in the US has a simple solution to the end of cheap oil: war.

My question is this: I wonder is it too late for real national leadership to emerge? Is it too late now to publicly speak of the problem because just admitting it will now cause such a world-wide panic as to exacerbate the pain. Is this why the administration insists that it is a non-problem?

Is it too late to promise a transition - albeit bumpy - to a comgolerate of alternatives for future fuel needs?

I've done the math, included Iraq and the possible Caspian Sea reserves, taken 8% decline in old well production into account - and I keep getting a 5-6 yr. stretch at current world-wide usage before we're in deep shit. This is NOT ENOUGH TIME!

I'm all for local solutions, and that may be the most we can hope for for the near future.
 
What's different between optimists and
pessimists here is that the P's have done the math. They look at the numbers while MB and the others trust
in a fairytale of "oh, we'll be fine,
we'll use solar, or tidal or..." or
yeah amd I'll build a rocket ship to
replace my car. What's also different
is that the P's understand 2 things:
the role of rates of change and scale. It took us 60 yrs to get here with
fewer mouths to feed and lower energy needs, now we have 2 change infrastuctures in a fraction of that time. In terms of scale- in fixing 1 Y2K problem on a PC I can fix 100 on a network. 100 welds on piping can't be done that way. The real world places real limits whereas abstractions (like much of economics) are not bound by reality and real physical processes. I have installed solar and man I can tell u it's nothing on the grunt, convenience and cheapness of the grid. 1900 here we come.
 
I am afraid that you do not understand that it has nothing to do with technology, yes it is possible that with enough time I am sure (being the optimist) that we could replace the energy necessary to run our current lifestyles. However if you think that you can produce enough plastic variants from other sources you really do not understand the big picture.

With 60,000 different products using oil derivitives is obviously going to impact absolutely everything.

If as the Oil companies (i.e. Chevron) have said that we have used up half the oil, (remembering the next half will cost more to extract, is lower quality and may be too difficult to get out the of ground) - I think the situation is serious.

I am sorry to say that you are giving false hope to those who think they are going to carry on as if nothing happened. Once Oil prices reach $100 the economy in the US will start to feel the pinch, once they reach $200 the US economy will be on its knees.

This morning Oil reach a new record - why because there is such a small difference between consumption and production - current est. 500,000BPD This will easily be used up in the next 6 month simply by expanding economies.

On a positive note: Remember France and Germany use the same amount of Oil now as they did 30 years ago. How? Well they use public transport, nuclear power, have very efficient homes and don't consume as much. It is possible to do it but I feel the US is leaving way to late.....
 
The reason that your assumption that the markets will come to the rescue is fundamentaly flawed can also be summed up in a few words....







"The very markets that you rely upon only exist and thrive because the underlying growth, on which they rely, is powered by fossil fuel, once that source of growth faulters the markets will also faulter and wither. Without cheap oil there will be no market to save the day...!"
 
I agree with the last post. Peak oil may not be as catastrophic as some sources claim, but it is a very serious issue because we have not only an economy, but an entire infrastructure built around oil.

For example, the idea that farmers can increase soybean production to increase biofuels as a cheaper alternative would work if it wasn't a catch 22. 90% of agricultural fertilizers rely on petrochemicals. Remember that fuel is needed to power tractors and other mechanized methods of mass farming. Yes, biofuel can be used, but alternative fuels are much less efficient than petroleum based fuels. We can't do it any better than nature and the energy conversion efficiency in the natural world is something around 20% right?

The issue is not just energy and energy conversion efficiency (which petroleum seems to have). There are, as the previous commentor stated, innumerable petro-based products that we have come to "need". Not just fertilizers but plastics. We really rely a lot on plastic.

Also, natural infrastructure and fuel source shifts will not occur without major growing pains. We need a slap in the face and a kick in the groin before we start to make significant changes. Because of the relative inefficiency of most alternative fuel sources to oil (except perhaps nuclear and some controversial sources) we will need to put significantly more capital and other resources into energy production. What needs to happen is not just a change in our sources of energy, but a massive change in our infrastructures. The second largest city in the U.S. has no effective and efficient mass transit system. That's a problem. Also, the layout of many major cities discourage walking and the use of mass transit. In order for us to better manage our energy resources whether oil or anything else, we need to change our way of life. Oil consumption is high because of energy and product consumption. And those are high because of societal mentalities that condone wasteful and excessive behaviors. This is not just a simple model of the "invisible hands" of macroeconomics, but a complex network of economic, political, and social attitudes creating crises that will come to bite us in the arses.
 
Your average American is uninformed. They haven't even heard of Peak Oil. My hats off to Chevron for making an attempt to inform the public that there is indeed changes on the horizon. But most people didn't even pay attention to their 2 full page ads in newspapers. We haven't had a politician say anything real about our energy future since Jimmy Carter, and the public thought he was a joke.
 
The incredible lack of leadership (from any party) in this country is puzzling. Without major projects to transition to alt sources now, many people will be literally left out in the cold in the near future.

Yes, technology is wonderful, magical - but let's not fool ourselves that possibility is reality. With basic survival at stake, why do we get only platitudes and rhetoric from our so-called leaders?
 
We already have a mode of transportation that uses next to no fossil fuels (once it's been built).

It is called a bicycle.

Dust off yours now or buy a new one and look at cycling as much as possible.
 
I would like to see one thorough analysis with the numbers (real numbers) about how the world will switch to biodiesel. First of all you can't simply take a billion hectares out of food production to grow fuel. The other thing is restructuring of the economy is going to be expensive and producers will pass that cost on to consumers. Running the government will get more expensive so taxes will have to go up so we can continue to enjoy all of our great government benefits. Anyways you look at it it will be a very trying time and I am still not convinced that any basket of alternative fuels will be able to give a carrying capacity of 7 billion. That means alot more than just a few billion extra people dying in the next 30 years. That means starvation, war, plague. It means that mankind has failed to use properly a great gift, the gift of oil. And it will be the poor as always who pay most of the price.
 
Detailed site debunking peak oil myths and agendas: http://peakoildebunked.blogspot.com/
 
I totally agree that Peak Oil will not be a well defiend event. I also agree that a combination of many technologies may save the day. It's really comes down to three things:

A) Timing -- will we be able to get new technolgies into place fast enough?

B) Scale -- Do any of the technologies have enough capacity to replace conventional fossil fuels.

C) Energy Ratios -- Some techologies receiving great praise are nonsense. The reason is because many of them (biodiesel, ethanol, Hydrogen, oil shale, etc...) have energy ratio of less than 1. By this I mean it takes more energy to create these fuels than you get back out when they are burned.


I'll run through some alternatives and issues:


1) Wind -- This is our best hope by far. The US electricity demand is about 1 Terawatt, or a trillion watts. GE, Vestas, and other companies make wind turbines with outputs ranging from 1 megawatt (million Watts, to a few megawatts. So how many windturbines will we need? Well, 1 trillion/1 million is 1 million. We would need 1 million wind turbines to get a sizeable fraction of our electricity demand from wind. Of course these windmills will not be running at full capacity all the time, so the million number will get us a good fraction of demand, but certainly not 100%. I would guess with 1 million windmills we could something like 20-30% of our electricity demand. Now comes cost. From my research into this, the cost of these windturbines are roughly $1 million each. So this is a trillion dollar investment. That may not sound feasible, but it is. If we finance it over 10 years, that's about the same per year as our war in Iraq is costing.


2) What about aviation? --- This is a really big problem. Sure we can convert our ground transport to hybrids, electric, or whatever. We can convert our electricity production to wind, solar and geothermal, but aviation is a much more difficult transition. I'm not talking about small single engines joy planes of course. I mean large commercial jets. Jet engines by definition need a huge exhaust gas velocity to create thrust (conservation of momentum). The amount of energy obtained from jet engines is enormous. It would be EXTREMELY difficult to develop a non fossil fuel powerplant for large plane commercial travel. I suppose once we convert all our electricity demand and ground transport to other sources, alot more fossil fuels will be available for aviation. There are existing methods for converting coal to liquid fuels, so I imagine such methods will have to be used for jet engines at some point.

3) Diversity --- I'm not trying to be PC here. Our energy use in the future will not be from one single, magic bullet fix. It will require many sources. We have to use wind where it's windy, solar where it's hot and sunny, geothermal where it's possible, you get the idea. All these things combined will get us up to some reasonable energy use.
 
I think you are totally missing the big picture here when you make statements like "other technologies will step in" or "there are so many technologies for producing energy." Oil is an energy source, it is not technology. If the energy wasn't present in the first place, no amount of technology will make it suddenly appear. Likewise, technology does not "produce" energy. It can only exploit existing energy sources. You are missing the most important point that oil energy is so easily accessible and portable and lends itself to so many uses. The alternative sources of energy (not other technologies) have severe limitations in this regard, and it is EXTREMELY irresponsible of you to so cavalierly blow off this problem as a non-issue. Technology can be a good thing (not necessarily though) but it can provide no magic bullet solution as far as energy is concerned.
 
ever heard of the laws of thermodynamics? how about entropy? how about the petrodollar? liebig's law of the minimum? the hirsch report? jevon's paradox? you should do some more research my friend...

your dismissal of the effects that peak oil will have on YOUR life is really unfortunate. i hope you can avoid walking through the rest of your life with your eyes closed.
 
ever heard of the laws of thermodynamics? how about entropy? how about the petrodollar? liebig's law of the minimum? the hirsch report? jevon's paradox? you should do some more research my friend...

biodiesel, by the way, has an EROEI of more than 1. it is not a net energy loser like ethanol, hydrogen, and the others stated above. when made from the right feedstock (i.e. NOT soybeans) it has an EROEI of close to 6:1. it is the only liquid fuel that can compete...

Marshall, your dismissal of the effects that peak oil will have on YOUR life is really unfortunate. i hope you can avoid walking through the rest of your life with your eyes closed.
 
Realy enjoy this whirlpool of -mental- energy bubbling here....

Unfortunatly, in this case most of the "optimist" fraction actually display the typicaly very low level of science education in the everage US folks... (And I do have the feeling there is mostly man quarreling "I'm right!" - "No, I'm right" here.

OK, I'm a man, I'm an aeronautical engineer by training, and I run a facility producing some 21000 gallons of neat biodiesel on good days, here in Austria.

For today I want to contribute only this facts:

a) The standard "A1 jet fuel" is nothing but kerosen, the lightest fraction of diesel fuel. Because it does not gel above -35 centigrade. Otherwise a gas turbine can run on any fuel oil, and does so in most termal power plants.

Most alternative FUELS can operate a jet engine nicely. Like destilled biodiesel. This is in the process of getting air safety approvals, as people want to find a non-greenhouse-gas solution for air traffic. Remember: Biodiesel coming from plant material is close to beeing CO2 neutral.

b) Ethanol is a superior aviation fuel for piston engines -about 100 octane- and most single engine porp aircraft (mostly US made - surprise) are allready approved for E100 fuel use (that is 100% Ethanol) because seems lot of folks in the heartlands prefer to use their locally produced ethanol...

c) The average number of diesel fuel input in modern agriculture is about 25-30 gallon per hectare per year for most crops. Or Biodiesel, for that matter. That is an average number from Europe - should be about same in US. Please allow me to switch to metric now. That is about 0.1 ton. That hectare should yield some 1.0 ton of oil at least. Could be more, but lets take that only. And at least 1.0 ton of best edible protein. And about 1 ton of carbohydrate. (note: Numbers are bit less oil and more edible meal in soy, and other way round in rape seed or sun flower). There are realistic possibilities of running this crop on ORGANIC mode and use more bio-fertilizer and bio-pestizide derived from this and other crops.

And if you want to be clever, use 10% ethanol in the formulation of biodiesel from veg. oil (called esterification) instead of the wide spread methanol that comes from natural gas sysnthesis today.

Add those figures: You get about 1 ton of biodiesel from 1 ton of oil plus 0.1 ton alcohol. By-products are: Some 2 tons of meal (edible if you chose the right plant). And some 0.1 ton of glycerine (can serve at least as heating fuel, but is also edible if you wish to refine it. Perfect sweetening agent without insulin issue...).

And the energy input for a modern BD-plant is about 2.5% of the biodiesel product.

Why I bore you with all this data? Just to point out that if you choose, THAT is the real potential of biodiesel. The energy efficiency is suddenly VERY different, right? There is practically no fossil input to the production that is a must-have (of course there is for to the setting up plant - calculate 15 years life)

Most numbers you find in "literature" on biodiesel are calulated with 100% fossil input scenarios. As if that is a God given. And many had the focus to actually proove shortcoming in BD.

d) Ethanol has a bit of a similar fate. If folks use now megatons of fossil fuel to heat the still and to dry of 95% of effluent water, no wonder they arrive at a <1 energy harvest factor. This is the (maybe poor) "state of the art" of many US corn ethanol facilities - I think because of cheap fossil fuel available until now.

Also here there is no law - at least no law of nature prohibiting to fire the still with low grade biomass (anything like staw or husk will do) and afford a biological water treatment facility for the effluent.

And -ooops- suddently we are near of beeing free from fossil input.

Please take my word, these things are available technology (from my actual business), not wishfull thinking. And yes, we can make biodiesel from anhydrous ethanol, dont worry if literature tells you it's not viable or "too difficult". Not for modern biodiesel process equipment.


So, and if you have been so generous to read until here, you must be thinking I will now support the "biofuel is the magic bullet" fraction?

No way. Not yet. Even if you use such real numbers, there are several limiting factors.

On is, you can use that field only once in 4 years for oil crops and have to apply crop rotation the other 3. Which is what you may want to do to also feed some people (using another 0.1 ton fuel - biofuel per year)

Another is, not every soil and every climate is suitable and even scale up of seed avaiability takes some time.

So I GUESS - because I think nobody has the capacity right now for any accurate modelling - that even in best case this all can only do a fraction of the job in the time/circumstances we are left with. Maybe one third? In case we do change patterns a lot also.

And if you folks in the US want to read something realy drastic now, search for "industrial mustard" and find out what happend in the third and last year of that large scale DOE funded project. It's so ironical that I prefer you people find out yourself why you do not have 15 billion gallons a year US grown biodiesel in place today....
 
Hmm.. another one with his head in the sand?
Really, you assume we will still have the time and money to 'simply replace' (as you dare call it) ALL oil-dependency. That's utter rubbish. Do you know how many owners of transportation vehicles today, including companies who need them for their product, fully depend on the availability of oil? Let's say you do; Now transform the amount of, for example, all cars to work on your alternative energy-source. What do you think it takes to accomplish that? That's right: Energy, and a whole lot of it.

Trust me, you are way too optimistic. Considering Katrina now oil-prices will rise even higher sooner than expected. You do the math.
 
Peak oil will be an event, but not a big one. No one alternative can replace oil, but no one alternative has to. As oil gets more expensive every industry will (at different times) reach a point where an alternative source of energy, or investing in conservation, becomes feasible. For example the electrical generation industry will be able to find substitutes to oil fired power plants before it is feasible for the auto industry to find a substitute for oil fired cars. Also, every alternative source of energy will (at different times) become competitive in certain situations before other ones. For example nuclear power will competitively power container ships (like it does Naval ships) before it competitively powers your car. In addition different people will switch to alternatives or start conserving at different times. An urbanite may find it easier to use mass transit to get around, but may see no alternative to heating with oil. While someone from the country may find it impractical to use mass transit but compensates by driving less and using a wood or corn burninng stove to heat his or her house with.

Because there will be millions of families and businesses making decisions individually there will be a much smother transition to alternatives than doomsayers proclaim. We have been making this transition for decades. According to the Department of Energy in 1978 the US used 3.6 gallons of petroleum per person per day. Today we use less than 3 gallons per person per day. Through conservation and using alternatives to petroleum we have been producing more goods and traveling more while using less oil.

Finally, there is a thing called the futures market. In this market you can buy or sell the rights to products for delivery at a future date. In the oil futures market oil is trading for $62 per barrel in 2010. This means oil companies are willing to sell oil for $62 a barrel in 2010, not something you’d do if you REALLY believe oil is headed for $100 or $200 per barrel. I now challenge the doomsayers to put their money where their mouth is. Start buying those futures contracts and you will be able to retire young. That is if you REALLY believe what you say.

Regards,
Phillip (I don't have time to sign up for an account)
 
Theres a storm a comin'. (its funny how you mentioned this in this blog when you first wrote it - we'll see how the US deals with it, hey??)

PO is not the only thing to worry about, btw...who do you think sent this storm??
 
If thise blog (and AltEng) were just a collection of possible technologies (a "press release redistribution center") it wouldn't bother me so much. It wouldn't bother me at all, really. Press releases, even if they are designed to lure investors, can be quite interesting.

The only think that bugs me is the "non-event" BS. We have "events" - we are living through "events."

The poor guy run over while trying to stop a drive-away gas theft sure was an "event."

So ... that slogan sits up there pulling in traffic, but it is getting increasingly sick.
 
Phillip,

I notice that the futures for oil have moved over US $70 for the next 8 months, and are trending that way all the way out till year 2011. I've been watching the exchange for some months now, and the cost of crude is increasing at about US 50c per month.

So it seems that the US $68 future for November 2011 will be US $100 before year 2010. Personally, I suspect that most people will agree that the peak has arrived by the time an US citizen is paying US $6 a gallon to fill their car.

Where I think that MB has some (if not a little too much) optimism is that by then, SUV's will be out of favour ('cept by Bill Gates) - much as they are in Australia today, with SUV owners starting to trade in their 18 month old vehicle for a 4 cylinder 'compact' sedon.

The high cost of petrol by then will force smaller cars, less trips, an increase in the cost of most groceries (and I mean everything, including canned goods and toothbrushes) and everyone will be searching for ways to economise. Especially those SUV car salesmen, who will be probably selling motorbikes, pushbikes or cleaning other peoples cars for a living.

Will people take up pushbiking? Walking? Growing their own vegies? Putting the kids in the local school and not the fancy private school 20 miles down the road? Install a solar hot-water system? Solar power? Wood burning fireplace to replace the central heating? Will a holiday be catching the train to the coast instead of flying to Florida or the Bahamas? Absolutely Yes to all these things. And more.

These above are what the 'peak' of oil is all about....not sudden starvation and wars (although I suspect a lot of Africans and some other countries like Indonesia are going to do badly, due to their high population/food ratios) but instead a steady lowering of the standard of living and an adaption to doing without the motor vehicle in the way we've known it in the last 30 years.

The increasing cost of oil, with its huge dependant product range from the petrochemical industry means that we'll all be spending a greater percentage of our income on surviving increased groceries, water and electricity costs....there won't be the money left over in most middle-class budgets to pay US $90 to $100 to fill the tank twice a week.

Ross.
 
Ross, I might be slightly more optimistic than you, on the level of adjustment needed. For one thing, I think a different (and happy) lifestyle can be arrainged without really "lowering" our standard of living. It's about getting our energy efficiency in-line with prices.

Nonetheless, I think you describe exactly the kinds of "events" we face. And if current buyers think twice about that new SUV now, maybe they'll have a little less pain later.

It might be too late for poor GM:

"GM lost an average of $1,227 per vehicle sold in North America during the first half of the year. Ford followed that with a per-vehicle loss of $139. The Chrysler group pushed into positive territory with a per-vehicle profit of $186.

Nissan, Toyota and Honda, however, all netted more than $1,000 per vehicle, with Nissan on top with $1,826."

link

... I think GM employees (and suppliers) are going to have some "events" of their own to deal with.
 
BTW, I honestly do think the war in Iraq is a "peak oil event" ... but given that some people have a mental block on that, I can argue "peak oil will lead to many interesting events" without that obvious example.

BTW, if you don't believe me on Iraq/Oil, believe the guy who taught at West Point:

http://odograph.com/?p=159
 
Ross,

A futures contract is a promise to buy or sell a product at a future date for a fixed price. Basically, a Dec 2011 contract for 1,000 barrels locked in today at $70 means that the buyer must buy 1,000 barrels of oil in 2011 for $70 and the seller must sell them. It does not matter if the same Dec 2011 contract is trading for $140 at some future point. The contract is still for $70. If the same barrel is selling for $300 in 2011, when the contract is due, the buyer just made a gross profit of $230,00.

This is a brief explaination. If you still don't understand what a futures contract is wikipedia can probably help.

Phillip
 
All of these alternatives combined would barely scratch the surface of our energy needs. BARELY! You've not got the faintest idea about what you're talking about.

Jesse
 
congradulations..
::DENIAL IS A TERRIBLE THING::
almost all of those energy sources you listed whether nuclear...solar...wind..water... all come down to being made out of plastics... plastice being made from OIL. also for those that believe that corn oil and other things can be made... when there arent hydocarbons to run the tractors, make pescticides, and make fertilizers... food production per acre will drop by 2/3... as ruppert saids in his book you apperently have not read... "you can call me crazy, but then again the phone your calling on is make from oil, and the pen you write my number down with is made from oil, and the chair you sit in is made from oil, and the glasses you look through is made from oil."

::DENIAL IS TERRIBLE THING::
 
Peak oil a non-event? Pollyanna thinking at its worst.
 
THE END OF SUBURBIA: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of The American Dream

"We're literally stuck up a cul-de-sac in a cement SUV without a fill-up" - James Howard Kunstler

http://www.endofsuburbia.com/
 
Why are we even having this argument? We should have been dead from acid rain by now. ;)

We're almost out of oil! We only have 40 years left! We only had 40 years left in the 70's too, and 10 years left in the 30's. Give be a break.

But no, too much pleasure in assigning blame with the backing of a doomsday scenario. Concrete, vehicles, industry, EVERYTHING about our way of life is just terrible and evil, and we must pay the price.

We'll see how this all plays out 10 years from now. Most likely most of us will be better off; however, there will still be plenty of baseless whining and discomfiture.
 
Phillip you said:

"According to the Department of Energy in 1978 the US used 3.6 gallons of petroleum per person per day. Today we use less than 3 gallons per person per day. Through conservation and using alternatives to petroleum we have been producing more goods and traveling more while using less oil."

In 1978 the population of the US was 222,584,545 and as you said we used 3.6 gallons of petroleum per person per day. That means we used 801 million gallons per day. Today there are 294 million people in the US. That means that with each person needing 3 gallons per day we use 882 million gallons per day. Which means we have not used any less oil to produce goods or travel.

sources:
http://www.infoplease.com/year/1978.html#us
http://www.infoplease.com/year/2004.html#us
 
This so called "Peak Oil" will have no affect on lives as we know it. its just like y2k and the 1929 depression all fiction. right fellas
 
You have failed to address the political aspects that indicate a forthcoming calamity.
 
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"... With a very simple reactor you can turn the vegetable oil into biodiesel..."

You are a flipping nutcase-if you thing that will save anything. First who’s going to pay for this “very simple reactor”? Who’s going to pay to move this stuff once it is made? And what about all the new BIODIESEL STATIONS that will need to be built. And I will not even start on the OIL that would be used to get this all started in the first place…..

“…But within a year farmers around the world can be growing more soybeans, which will increase the supply…”

So the all the farmers just up and stop planting food that people around the world need to eat so you can drive your biodiesel car. You really should put some thought in to what you say and especially what you say to other people-
 
usb

What about butanol. It is close to gasoline in burn properties. It does not compete with ediible food sources when you use any cellulose based starting material. It is easier to makethan ethanol. It is biodegradable. It has by-products that make great animal feed.
 
Now reflect back on all this after a year with prices rising, economies flatlining and the world on the verge of global war.

If it were only so easy as wroting it down and becoming a Pollyanna.

Well so much for that, hindsite works well though.
 
Interestingly, the Development spiral of technological evolution can argue the PO debate either way...Either we will all disappear in a huge catastrophe of technological whirlwind mess or technology will give us so many similtanous answers we will not know which to pick.

Im trying to write a piece for a masters which discusses...'
will technology be in place in time to aid the PO event - prove it!'

I would really appreciate any ideas and or sources...as you consider it - it gets very involving.
just look at it from all directions the yes the no the only ifs... very varied answers...

But how do we predict either event - Po or Technology development?

Thanks
 
i definitely agree. there would be alternative sources of oil (hello, organic oil anyone?) and we just need to tap into them sooner rather than later. there's this article on www.oilandlubes.com specially discussing organic oils and i found out its easier to get, process and replenish. not to mention use and processing of organic oils produce less pollution. the question is why is there no one standing up and driving this point out?
 
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