Monday, July 04, 2005

the reality driving our foreign policy, wars, and the coming draft: OIL depletion

The article below is an excellent summary and collection of links on the biggest story of our lives that few people know about.

Back in 1956, an oil company geologist made a simple prediction: that once discovery of oil declined, production would decline a few decades later--you can't pump what isn't there. He said the United States production would begin to decline in the mid 70s, and was right. He predicted the world peak would be in the first decade of the 21st century, oddly right around the time we decided we need to invade the second biggest oil producing country, right next to the biggest.

The last parts of the world that will be drained are the Caspian Sea Basin right about the Iran and Iraq, but even that pales compared to the Persian Gulf countries themselves.

Our politicians aren't talking about this because they have already decided what they are going to do about it--militarily occupy and control those countries that will have oil the longest.

If the American people knew about this, they might reasonably ask their government to skip the wars and get right to replacing oil, which we will have to do eventually anyway, and which will probably cost less than what we will spend in Iraq and later Iran.

Unfortunately, as we are seeing now, even this flawed policy is only for the benefits of the oil companies, not the American people.

Even when it comes to replacement technologies, the government is focusing on coal & nuclear, energy sources that can be monopolized the way oil is now.

In the short term, the real alternative is small scale wind & solar generation on individual houses and businesses, connected like an energy internet, so you put energy in as well as take it out, and you could even end up coming out ahead on the deal at the end of the month.

Our cars could be modified to run on biofuels, which we could produce with about 6% of our farm land. But again, if someone tried to drive the price up too high, it's easy to see how to control the price: someone else will grow more corn and make more fuel and sell it for less.

I'm not sure if we can get our government to do this, given the stranglehold that big business has on Washington, but if you own a house or a farm, you should start googling around and see if photovoltaics, solar thermal, or a windmill will work on your site.
Los Angeles Post Carbon

Reposted with permission from

Peak oil primer and links

What is Peak Oil?

Peak Oil is the simplest label for the problem of energy resource depletion, or more specifically, the peak in global oil production. Oil is a finite, non-renewable resource, one that has powered phenomenal economic and population growth over the last century and a half. The rate of oil 'production,' meaning extraction & refining (currently about 83 million barrels/day), has grown in most years over the last century, but once we go through the halfway point of all reserves, production becomes ever more likely to decline, hence 'peak'. Peak Oil means not 'running out of oil', but 'running out of cheap oil'. For societies leveraged on ever increasing amounts of cheap oil, the consequences may be dire. Without significant successful cultural reform, economic and social decline seems inevitable.

Why does oil peak? Why doesn't it suddenly run out?

For obvious reasons, people have extracted the easy-to-reach, cheap oil first. The oil pumped first was on land, near the surface, under pressure and light and 'sweet' and easy to refine into gasoline. The remaining oil, sometimes off shore, far from markets, in smaller fields, or of lesser quality, will take ever more money and energy to extract and refine. The rate of extraction will drop. Furthermore, all oil fields eventually reach a point where they become economically, and energetically no longer viable. If it takes the energy of a barrel of oil to extract a barrel of oil, then further extraction is pointless.

M. King Hubbert - the first to predict an oil peak
In the 1950s a US geologist working for Shell, M. King Hubbert, noticed that oil discoveries graphed over time, tended to follow a bell shape curve. He posited that the rate of oil production would follow a similar curve, now known as the Hubbert Curve. In 1956 Hubbert predicted that production from the US lower 48 states would peak in 1970. Shell ordered Hubbert not to make his studies public, but the notoriously stubborn Hubbert went ahead and did it anyway. As it turned out, most people inside and outside the industry dismissed Hubbert's predictions. In 1970 US oil producers had never produced as much, and Hubbert's predictions were a fading memory. But Hubbert was right, US continental oil production did peak in 1970/71, although it was not widely recognized for several years and only with the benefit of hindsight.

No oil producing region neatly fits bell shaped curve exactly because production is dependent on various geological, economic and political factors, but the Hubbert Curve remains a powerful predictive tool.

So when will oil peak globally?

For about 30 years the world has been finding less oil than it has been consuming. Discovery of new oil fields peaked in the 1960s. Around 50 oil producing countries have already peaked and now produce less and less oil each year, including the USA and the North Sea. Hubbert's methods, and variations of them, and other methods entirely, have been used to make various projections about the global oil peak, with results ranging from 'already peaked', to the very optimistic 2035. Many of the official figures used to model oil peak such as OPEC figures, oil company data, and the USGS discovery projections can be shown to be very unreliable. Several notable scientists have attempted independent studies, most notably Colin Campbell and the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO).

ASPO's latest 2004 model suggests a peak of 'conventional' oil in 2005, and all oil and gas liquids in 2008. Others such as Kenneth Deffeyes and A. M. Samsam Bakhtiari have made similar or even earlier predictions, although precise predictions are difficult as much secrecy shrouds important oil and gas data.

Globally, natural gas is also expected by some to peak within decades, although its affects are more localized due to the added expense of transporting liquefied natural gas (LNG). Both British and North American natural gas may have peaked already.

What does this mean?

Our industrial societies and our financial systems were built on the assumption of constant growth, growth based on ever more readily available cheap fossil fuels. Oil in particular is the most convenient and multi-purposed of these fossil fuels. Oil currently accounts for about 40% of the world's commercial energy, and about 90% of transportation energy. Oil is so important that the peak will have vast implications across the realms of geopolitics, lifestyle, agriculture and economic stability.

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