Posted on November 10, 2006
Filed Under Uncategorized |
"A world become one, of salads and sun…"
This post is written for those who hold the view, understandably, that peak-oil may be a hoax. I sometimes forget that skepticism of corporate power distorted by bubble-vision makes the study of peak-oil seem like the quest of a knave.
But if it’s not a ruse, the ramifications are vast. And it’s my contention that most people view technology, energy, and its related solutions with an irrational, often theocratic belief. I want to skip the numbers, if possible, and simply suggest that the issue called peak-oil deserves serious reflection.
Some things just stick in your mind… I remember finishing Matthew Simmons’ Twilight in the Desert before the book was actually released in Great Briton. Apparently, I considered it that important. It was the most difficult book I’d ever read. Well written for the subject matter, but it was a mountain of data and dry as hell. I’d already digested other peak-oil related books; Kunstler’s The Long Emergency was the most enjoyable. But I needed to scrutinize Simmons to eliminate possible misinterpretations. His extensive and conservative background, as a high powered energy investment banker, was essential for balance. I’ve also read a few books regarding economic collapse and, in my view, the two are hopelessly interconnected.
First, the definition. Peak refers to the top of a standard bell curve, of production, formed on a chart. It goes up, rolls over, and then goes down. Oil refers to crude, coming out of the ground. It does not represent coal, tar-sand, corn, or solar cells. Peak-oil refers to the irrefutable fact that oil-wells are discovered, tapped, drained, then abandoned. And if something like “abiotic” oil is mysteriously refilling them, it’s painfully slow. Once you acknowledge a limit, the question on peak-oil becomes when – not if.
US oil production peaked around 1970, and it did this because America was first to explore and exploit crude-oil in a big way. This massive historical trend is essentially unaffected by environmentalists and regulation. US/Peak-oil/Historical fact; short & simple, but also understand that peak-production follows peak-discovery.
There’s no getting around it, the same fate awaits the rest of the world; as the planet wide drop in discoveries and aging production begin to confirm. But it’s the resurgence of nuclear and coal, plus the recent assumed cost effectiveness tar-sand and other solutions that sound the alarm. Regardless, the fact remains; no alternative exists to replace any reasonable fraction of 80+ million barrels of crude oil per day, every day.
It’s a bit early to check the rear-view-mirror, but… "Energy Information Administration data showed world supply of crude oil has declined to 83.98 million barrels per day in the second quarter after hitting 84.35 million bpd in the fourth quarter of 2005." When the drop off occurs and continues, the affects cascade.
Obscuring this unfolding reality is a less-than-obvious industrial complex that renders copper, suburbia, wind turbines, and modern food production as products of a fossil fuel infrastructure. The list is long, the interconnections incomprehensible; because much of technology itself is a byproduct of energy derived from oil. Adding insult to injury, unrealistic expectations are propagated by failures to discern false alternatives. Case in point, tropical sugar cane biofuel for a country with a few cars vs. temperate corn biofuel for a country with a lot of cars.
Our civilization doesn’t just run on oil; it was built on, maintained with, and continues to function as a result of cheap-oil; and lots of it. Picking the low hanging fruit doesn’t mean you’re out, it means continued harvesting requires more work for the same yield. Regarding crude, once you’ve harvested half the deposit, energy input increases as petroleum output decreases. Energy Returned over Energy Invested.
We’ve been pulling oil from the earth for over a hundred years, and the current rate of over eighty million barrels per day is more than any period in history. Clearly the opposite of running out; but running-out isn’t the problem, at this time. It’s producing less that can be catastrophic. Remember, peak-oil refers to crude-oil max production; not tar-sands or coal. In some respects, it’s even a distraction to think of the down-slope as costing more money; as in money to produce oil-energy. More importantly, it costs more energy to produce energy. ERoEI
Notice also that the concepts of energy and technology are often used interchangeably. They go hand in hand, but they’re not synonymous. And how much clean natural gas are we willing to squander fabricating usable liquid fuels from tar sands? As I recently read, this may be akin to using "caviar to make fake crab-meat." The upside of Hubbert Peak grew human population to levels never-before possible. On the downside we deal with it; a commodities bullfight.
History provides myriad examples of market bubbles. At the end of 2006 we consider the housing bubble. A larger bubble yet is the bubble economy itself, and an argument could be made for the largest bubble of all time. Spending half the earth’s endowment of ancient sunlight,
in synergistic combination with an international, century long
expansion-of-credit, produced the jet-powered Keynesian misallocation
of recourses - that is, the Bubble of Civilization.
"I heard it was you, talkin’ ’bout a world where oil is free; it just couldn’t be…"
- the stranger