Have We Passed the Peak ?  

Posted by Big Gav

The Viridian sites seem to have been commenting on peak oil a lot lately.

I was a bit surprised so many people have picked up this "anonymous letter from an oil industry insider" (every oil industry insider I know either scoffs at peak oil or doesn't want to talk about it) - it doesn't say anything that most peak oil people haven't been saying for a few years now.

Except for the delightfully grim ending of course.

It is not a question of “if” peak oil has occurred – it has! The better question might be “when are the crows coming home to roost?” When will we begin to actually experience the shortages and the rising prices? I think we might make a decade, if everybody plays nice across the world. But when has that ever happened when something got scarce?

Just wanted to get that off my chest. I have been maligned and spit on by too many people who drive cars and use electricity, and then bitch about prices or claim some kind of “Big Oil Conspiracy”…. I can tell you that the collective consensus within my business will be “let the bastards freeze in the dark” when the big wail arises.


The oil industry has many problems of course, and their reputation for "Big Oil Conspiracies" is well deserved and based on their long and appalling history of market manipulation (which has set a bad example to other cartels and enemies of free trade for over a century). But its not like they are out there warning us about the problems that peak oil poses (Matthew Simmons and T Boone Pickens aside, both of whom are no doubt profiting from the surge in energy prices in any case).

In the meantime I think a few more governments should follow the British example and slap some "windfall profit" taxes on their local oil companies - maybe the money can pay for some much needed public transportation systems.

The Good Oil  

Posted by Big Gav

ABC Radio has an interview with Kenneth Deffeyes, along with economist Peter Odell. Nothing new in it but its interesting to see the issue continuing to get exposure in the media here (other than in the continuing uranium push from the Financial Review).

Read Between the Lines  

Posted by Big Gav

I'd seen the jitters created by South Korea's talk of diversifying away from the US dollar (ie. the first rat trying to abandon a sinking ship), but I hadn't read any more in depth discussion. Land of Black Gold notes that they are moving funds to the A$ and C$ - once upon a time it was gold reserves that guaranteed currencies - now it appears its energy reserves.

South Korea announces it will diversify it's foreign currency holdings to include Canadian and Australian currencies. = South Korea is aware of peak oil and is putting money in the currencies of countries with large deposits of various natural resources including oil and natural gas. Notice they didn't put it in the Euro, the supposed new alternative to the dollar, because the Euro countries have almost no oil and gas left.

The Clusterfuck Nation Chronicle  

Posted by Big Gav

Jim Kunstler is probably the most entertaining peak oil writer - his semi-gonzo style is always a relief when the blander foretellings of doom become uninspiring.

One of the dirty secrets of our time is that a large group of relatively stupid people were able to thrive in the growth medium of a cheap energy economy. People who had emerged blinking from agricultural serfdom in the 1950s found themselves, within a generation, making millions whacking together suburban houses and selling Chevrolets to other people like them. It is no accident that the main activity of televangelism is, literally, money-grubbing, or that so many of the branches of this degraded Christianity are preoccupied with unearned riches. It is also not an accident that no major spokesperson of the "born again" sector has made a peep about Las Vegas, or against legalized gambling anywhere in the country - in fact, this New Christianity represents the Las Vegas-ization of religion per se, faith in the idea that it is possible to get something for nothing, an idea which is generally only believed in by stupid people or little children, an idea that is deeply pernicious to the human project.

Since it is a religion essentially based on extreme selfishness, luxury, comfort, and self-satisfaction, it will probably become most virulent when the goodies its members have enjoyed grow scarce. In other words, when the folks in Phoenix and Atlanta find themselves on line waiting for gasoline, duck and cover. It is unfortunate that the very real hardships of the global oil crisis will appear to jibe with their stupid fantasies about the "end times," because the end of cheap fossil fuel does not have to be the end of civilization, and certainly not of the human race. But this stupidity and selfishness go hand-in-hand, so the nation as a whole has not been able to face the most obvious tasks of preparation, like reviving the railroad system.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells  

Posted by Big Gav

WorldChanging has an article called "Getting Closer to a Fuel Cell Future" about advances in hydrogen fuel cell technology.

It's something of an assumption of many bright green types that the personal transportation of the near future will run on hydrogen fuel cells. After all, hydrogen can be cracked from water using little more than electricity (from renewable sources, ideally), and the fuel cell process results in little more than water as waste (again, ideally). While the chemistry of hydrogen production and use has proven a bit more complex than hoped, the real stumbling blocks to a move to a hydrogen fuel cell world have been the capabilities of the hydrogen and fuel cell systems themselves. Hydrogen is tough to store in sufficient quantities for travel, making range a problem; furthermore, the fuel cells themselves are expensive and often quite delicate, unable to operate under moderately adverse environmental conditions.

Two recent developments might bring the fuel cell future a bit closer, however.

They discuss a new spinoff from the University of Queensland called Hydrexia which will manufacture a hydrogen storage medium using magnesium alloys with a sponge-like nanostructure.

The possibility of a Hydrogen fuel cell based economy generally seems to get dismissed out of hand in peak oil circles, based on a number of arguments.

The first argument, ("hydrogen is an energy carrier, not an energy source"), is that you need to generate the energy to create the hydrogen somehow (which is problematic if energy becomes scarcer) and that this process is wasteful as there are losses at each stage of the energy conversion process.

The second argument is that fuel cells wear out quite quickly, and take considerable energy to produce, which means the infrastructure needs constant and expensive renewal.

Other arguments include the shorter range of fuel cell based vehicles and cost of constructing fuel cells (as they use expensive materials such as platinum).

While there is more to be done, Amory Lovins of The Rocky Mountain Institute addresses many of the myths about hydrogen (pdf) in this paper.

If all of his information is correct (and he seems to be a credible commentator), then maybe it is premature to dismiss hydrogen fuel cells as an alternative for transportation.

The main issue then becomes "how do we create all this hydrogen" - and there seem to be some promising avenues. Obviously there is the nuclear option (for some period of time), but there are also renewable options such as bio-hydrogen and performing electrolysis using local solar or wind energy resources - as well as extracting hydrogen from natural gas (in the short term).

These issues were also discussed at the recent Verdepolis conference. However, once attendee's view was:

"The car of the future is a railroad car," Vergara says, "and there's a bike waiting for you at the other end of the ride."

The Apocalyptic Landscape  

Posted by Big Gav

Via Monkeygrinder, this is a good post on the growth of apocalyptic thinking.

"Of course, we might not find a technological fix for our energy problems. But the more years we can squeeze out of whatever oil's left, the better our chances are. In my opinion, the chance that we'll solve at least part of the energy problem in the next twenty years is far better than the chance that we'll have a working space-based missile defense program in the next fifty.

Therefore, we need to encourage conservation. But does this mean we need to advocate it on the basis of an apocalyptic peak-oil scenario? I don't think so...or at least, not always. The one-issue mindset limits our ability to be effective advocates for change. There are other, more effective types of leverage than fear of calamitous social breakdown...especially when so many people dislike the society we've got, and may have a secret wish to watch it collapse.

On the Left, we tend to focus on issues that we feel should be of interest to responsible adults. But America is not entirely a nation of responsible adults. There's nothing wrong with pointing out, on occasion, that BushCo is denying us not just clean air and water, but more fun and better toys.

The Right has had a lot of success painting us as puritanical killjoys. But all you have to do is look at sites like Treehugger, Metaefficient, Boing Boing, and Near Near Future to see that, in fact, it's the cheap-labor, anti-competition, scaremongering blowhards of the Right who are the real killjoys. They're not just enemies of biodiversity; they're also enemies of technological and scientific diversity, and they're robbing us of all sorts of interesting and attractive products and possibilities.

There are other forms of leverage, too. The epidemic of obesity among the working population, which costs employers a fortune, could conceivably be used as justification for redesigning residential areas or workplaces in ways that would, coincidentally, reduce dependence on automobiles. For instance, employees who bicycle to work might receive, say, 20 minutes of vacation time per day. In a year, they'd earn an extra two weeks of vacation time. The incentive here has nothing to do with peak oil, but it has a real effect, however modest, on both conservation and air quality.

As I said, these are very disorganized thoughts. But I do think that if we can't come up with a miraculous solution like cold fusion, we need an innovation economy that produces lots of little solutions, and promotes cooperation between experts - and amateurs - in many different fields. Meanwhile, on the rhetorical level, we need to give people hope, and a personal stake in seeing the world change. If a certain amount of apocalyptic thinking comes from emotional dissatisfaction with what passes for life in these United States, then we need to make people eager for a more wholesome form of "regeneration" than fascism offers.

Oil Development May Not Be Able to Slow Price Rise  

Posted by Big Gav

A recent conference in Houston saw some mainstream discussion of possible peak points.

ChevronTexaco Chairman and CEO David O'Reilly said he expects hydrocarbons to contribute to energy supplies through the midpoint of the century.

"Setting aside above-ground political and security issues, world oil production capacity through 2010 points toward continued growth in both non-OPEC and OPEC liquid-production capacity," Jackson said.

The research firm predicted total liquids capacity would rise nearly 20 percent to 101.5 million barrels a day. CERA said most of the increase would come from projects in the deepwater offshore Brazil, Nigeria, Angola and the Gulf of Mexico. The Caspian region and the Canadian oil sands are also expected to make significant contributions.

"To be sure, there are risks to supply growth," growth," Jackson said. Those include higher field decline rates and delays to major projects.

ChevronTexaco's O'Reilly also called for a new U.S. energy policy, saying "current regulations make it too hard to keep pace with the nation's growing energy demand".

I'm not sure that blaming the problem on regulation (rather than the simple fact of depletion) is a productive tactic - though no doubt the oil majors and "Its Morning In America" Republican politicians would like to have energy scarcity in the coming years blamed on someone other than themselves.

He also seems unaware that natural gas already seems to be past peak in North America.

O'Reilly, speaking at the Cambridge Energy Research Associates conference in Houston, said he didn't see the need for a policy until recently.

"But in light of changing circumstances, I now feel the administration must refocus our nation's energy policy to meet the new energy equation," he said, and pointed to Japan as a model.

In 1973, oil accounted for 75 percent of Japan's energy supply. It now accounts for less than half. Over the same period, nuclear power has grown to 12 percent, up from less than 1 percent, and natural gas use has increased more than eight-fold.

O'Reilly cited four factors for changing his mind about a U.S. energy policy: The country is becoming more energy interdependent, not less; demand is increasing and shows no signs of abating; reliable supplies "are critical to sustained economic growth;" and a policy debate would help people gain a better understanding of the issues.

Energy independence has "no grounding in reality," he said, adding "We need to make our policy tradeoffs clear."

"And we need alignment of energy policy with other policies central to our national interest - environmental, economic, trade and national security."

He gave natural gas as an example.

"Common sense would suggest that we develop natural gas supplies as quickly as economically feasible," O'Reilly said. But environmental restrictions put limits on natural-gas development in the Rocky Mountains, Alaska and offshore. "If a preference for natural gas is going to be our de facto policy for the generation of electricity, then our national policy should encourage and enable the development of natural gas," he said.

He also recommended that a U.S. energy policy consider coal and nuclear power; renewable sources of fuel, such as wind and solar; and energy efficiency.

We Need the Oil, Right ? So What's the Problem ?  

Posted by Big Gav

EnergyBulletin has a good article outlining the origins of the Iraq war.

In August 1992, Dick Cheney, then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney under a very different President Bush, was asked to explain why US tanks did not roll into Baghdad and depose Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War. Cheney said:

"I don't think you could have done that without significant casualties... And the question in my mind is how many additional casualties is Saddam worth? And the answer is not that damned many... And we're not going to get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq."

Later, then-CEO Dick Cheney of Halliburton found himself focusing on different priorities. In the fall of 1999 he complained:

"Oil companies are expected to keep developing enough oil to offset oil depletion and also to meet new demand...So where is this oil going to come from? Governments and national oil companies are obviously in control of 90 percent of the assets... The Middle East with two-thirds of the world's oil and the lowest cost is still where the prize ultimately lies."

What had changed in the seven years between Cheney's two statements?

* The US kept importing more and more oil to meet its energy needs.
* Energy shortages drove home the need to ensure/increase energy supply.
* Oil specialists concluded that "peak oil" production was but a decade away, while demand would continue to zoom skyward.
* The men now running US policy on the Middle East appealed to President Clinton in January 1998 to overthrow Saddam Hussein or "a significant portion of the world's supply of oil will be put at hazard."
* In October 1998 Congress passed and Clinton signed a bill declaring it the sense of Congress that "it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein."
* International sanctions left a debilitated Iraq with greatly weakened armed forces headed by an "evil dictator."

Shortly after George W. Bush entered the White House in January 2001, Vice President Cheney's energy task force dragged out the maps of Iraq's oil fields.

To be fair, taking over Middle East oil fields was not a new idea. In 1975 Henry Kissinger, using a pseudonym, wrote an article for Harpers titled "Seizing Arab Oil," outlining plans to do just that, preventing Arab countries from having absolute control over the modern world's most vital commodity. But in those days there was a USSR to put the brakes on such adventurism.

No Nukes, Part 2  

Posted by Big Gav

TreeHugger has also picked up the article from TomPaine which pointed out some unpleasant facts about the revivial of the nuclear energy debate, particularly the immaturity of the pebble bed reactors that people are promoting as the new nuclear solution and the centralised nature of the generation being a retrograde step when future generation needs would better served by a distributed infrastructure.

Some of the pro-nuclear comments that follow the post are quite interesting - like the "hydrogen economy", it appears there is a lot of noise in the debate, which makes it hard to separate fact from (often politically motivated) fiction.

One poster references mini-nukes - small scale nuclear power plants, which would seem to be in line with the desire to distribute generation more widely. But, of course, it means you now have the problem of how to widely distribute nuclear fuel and then deal with the waste, all in a safe manner, which would appear intractable.

Toshiba offered their new miniature nuclear reactor to the small Alaskan village of Galena back in 2003, and after much deliberation it looks like the project is finally moving forward. The city council has voted unanimously to allow construction of the reactor, which Toshiba calls the 4S ("Super-Safe, Small, and Simple" — see how reassuring that is?), and if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approves, it could be up and running by 2010.

The 4S reactor will be the smallest reactor ever built, measuring about the size of a large spruce tree. The reactor core itself will be underground and encased in a concrete housing, making it "as safe from immune to attack or theft as a missle in its silo," according to Toshiba reps. Nice analogy, guys.

Breeder reactors are also trotted out as an alternative - but are there any examples of reliable, working breeder reactors out there ?

No one has yet mentioned pebble bed reactors (as they are still at an early stage of development), but Mobjectivist did a post on them recently.

North America Hungry for LNG  

Posted by Big Gav

Energy Review reports that North America is looking for LNG supplies from Australia, but that they are competing with local and Asian customers for access to the north west shelf gas reserves.

This is the first report I've seen that talks about the possibility of the existing north west shelf fields being fully forward sold (with the long term deal with Japan being added to by the deal with China and new speculation about a possible Korean deal as well).

Australia must develop its gas reserves to be ready to supply North America's huge and growing liquefied natural gas (LNG) markets, federal industry minister Ian Macfarlane said yesterday. But a report prepared for the federal and West Australian governments warns foreign appetite for Australian gas could threaten local industries.

The federal government is pushing for Australia to be a major supplier of LNG to Mexico and the west coast of the US. California is facing dwindling reserves of LNG from traditional suppliers in North America and Mexico is experiencing energy growth demand of about eight per cent a year.

On the Mexican leg of his North American visit Macfarlane toured the sites of two proposed LNG receiving terminals in Baja California, Mexico. Developing the offshore West Australian Gorgon gas project was vital, according to Macfarlane. The Gorgon partners are ExxonMobil, Shell and ChevronTexaco. ChevronTexaco won approval earlier this month to build a gas import terminal off Mexico.

But back in Australia, a study prepared for the federal and West Australian governments, has warned that overseas demand for West Australian gas could threaten up to $660 billion worth of minerals projects in that state, according to a report in today's Australian. The mineral-processing sector - including alumina and mineral sands industries - in Western Australia's south-west needs competitive energy prices to encourage new developments and expansion of existing projects, the newspaper reports. The study by Sydney-based Sleeman Consulting has said gas from existing North West Shelf project reserves will be fully committed if existing Japanese LNG customers roll over their contracts beyond 2009.



(How PNG reserves got included in with ours I'm not sure - I wonder when they'll add East Timor's in as well ?).

How To: Get Green Power  

Posted by Big Gav

TreeHugger has an article on how US consumers can buy green power from their electricity supplier.

You’re likely aware of the benefits of using renewable energy, but just how exactly do you get it piped into your house? Here’s some info that can help you get powered up...

The term "green power" pretty much refers to electricity supplied, at least in part, from renewable energy sources like wind and solar power, geothermal, hydropower, and various forms of biomass. More and more, we are being given options about which type of power we choose, as markets open to competition and as utility companies begin to develop their own sources for cleaner, renewable energy. According to the Green Power Network, a DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy effort, almost half of all retail customers in the United States now have an option for purchasing a green power product directly from their electricity supplier. But even if you’re not included in that stat, there are still ways that you can support the development of renewable resources.


Australia has a similar program called GreenPower that allows customers to buy renewable energy from their supplier at a premium to the usual price they pay.
Most Australians don’t realise that over 90% of their electricity is generated by burning coal. This creates greenhouse gas pollution that contributes to global warming and climate change.

You can ask your electricity supplier instead to source the energy you use from renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydro-power. Choosing a clean energy alternative makes it easy for everyone to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions at home and work.

Green Power is a national accreditation program that sets stringent environmental and reporting standards for renewable energy products offered by electricity suppliers to households and businesses across Australia.

If you choose a government accredited Green Power product, your energy supplier agrees that the equivalent amount of energy you nominate is produced from renewable sources, avoiding the use of coal-derived power.

Energy suppliers’ Green Power products are independently audited so you can be sure your money is being well spent.

The Green Power tick is your guarantee that your contributions are helping facilitate the installation of new sustainable energy projects in Australia.

As an example of this, Energy Australia has 2 green power options.

The first is a full, accredited GreenPower product that they call "Pure Energy" - the charges for this are around an extra 6 cents per kilowatt, which for my apartment would be an extra $480 a year (based on a consmuption of around 8000 Kwh) - an increase of almost 50%.

They also offer another, more debatable, renewable energy option called GreenFuture that costs an extra $1 per week, regardless of consumption.

Unfortunately, is seems likely that few consumers would want to add an extra 50% to their power bill by choosing fully renewable energy - so this isn't going to make any meaningful difference to the uptake of green energy. In the absence of cost competitive renewable energy (which could be made possible by applying carbon taxes to non-renewable energy production) only government mandated production targets can drive the adoption of renewable energy.

The Solar Tower  

Posted by Big Gav

Enviromission have recently announced that they have decided on a site for the solar tower they are building near Mildura. I've always thought this was something of a pipe dream, given the staggering cost, but they seem to be steadily progressing.

The mammoth project, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, will be built by the end of 2009.

The reinforced concrete tower will cover approximately one square kilometres at its base and will be surrounded by a "greenhouse" of glass, polycarbonate and polymer. Air at 30C at the edge of the glasshouse is heated up to 70C at the centre, where the tower draws it through 32 turbines to the cooler air above.

The power station will produce up to 200 megawatts of electricity and can generate 24 hours a day.

Enviromission floated on the Australian Stock Exchange in 2001. Its major investor is the owner of the solar tower technology, US company SolarMission Technologies.

Enviromission has the exclusive Australian rights to the technology, first developed on a much smaller scale in Spain in the early 1980s, using a German design.


One thing I've noticed with all the green energy projects going on in Australia is that they all rely heavily on a Renewable Energy Certificates (RECS) price of around $40 per MWh (for example, look at this report on Geodynamics, a geothermal energy company looking to build a 275MW plant this year).

The volume of RECS that need to be purchased each year is dependent on the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target (MRET) defined by the Federal government. RECS are created by renewable energy generators, such as hydro-electric plants, wind farms, bagas plants, tidal generators, biomass generation, solar generation etc and then sold to wholesale electricity generators so that they meet their renewable energy generation requirements defined by the MRET.

The total volume of renewable energy required to be generated rises from 300Gwh in 2001 to 9500Gwh in 2010, which by my rough calculations is equivalent to a 1084MWh plant operating full time (which would supply a fairly pitiful 3.5% or so of the market). [any corrections to these numbers would be gratefully accepted]

I've yet to see any analysis of the total renewable generation capacity that is planned to come online over the next 5 years, but if the 2 projects mentioned earlier actually work, they would supply almost half of the MRET target.

If by some miracle my arithmetic is correct, it seems likely that we'll have more RECS available than companies are required to buy, which doesn't look good for the prices that the financial assumptions are based on.

Of course, a change in government at the next election could well result in an increased MRET requirement, which would solve this particular problem, as well as contributing to dealing with some thornier issues.

Australia To Go Nuclear Too ?  

Posted by Big Gav

During earlier posts on the resurgance of nuclear energy I wasn't imagining that it was actually going to be raised as an option here - I was more thinking of energy deficient, densely populated northern hemisphere countries.

So I was more than a bit appalled to see the Financial Review raising the topic in a number of articles (which seems to be a theme they've been steadily developing since they first raised the peak oil topic earlier in the year). They also included a good survey of new activity in the sector - there are currently 439 nuclear plants in operation worldwide, with 25 under construction and another 74 being planned. Uranium prices have doubled since 2003 and look to double again in the next 5 years.

Henry Thornton comments, quoting a ex Rio Tinto chief executive (note that Rio Tinto is one of our biggest uranium miners) :

The AFR article begins by quoting former RIO CEO, Leon Davis, who calls for a national debate on the subject. Nuclear energy, Davis says, "is the elephant in the room in the whole greenhouse debate." Later in the article [a Greenpeace spokesman] comments "Nukes are a dinosaur technology. It has an intractable waste problem,... It creates a kind of pollution which is more odious than greenhouse pollution."

No Nukes!  

Posted by Big Gav

TomPaine.com says No Nukes!. The article discusses the drawbacks of nuclear power and explains how large-scale plants are going to go the way of the dinosaur (or should that be gas guzzler), as the future of energy generation has to be based on small-scale, distributed generation model.

Bush’s second term will include many historic decisions, but none may be more detrimental for long-term American prosperity—and go as quietly unnoticed—than a large-scale federal commitment to nuclear power.

The nuclear industry has launched a concerted campaign that, if successful, would allow the two halves of the energy industry—oilmen and power companies—to preserve their market dominance. That’s dangerous. Preserving the energy status quo will cripple any chance that America will escape from our debt-ridden consumer economy. For America to both grasp the emerging vision of a more equitable and prosperous “innovation economy” and achieve true energy independence, this nuclear assault must be stopped.

The new year saw the launch of a well-orchestrated, multi-pronged campaign calling for America to end its dependence on oil through massive federal investments in nuclear energy. On Jan. 1, the American Enterprise Institute published an article ominously entitled,“The Solution,” by William Tucker. In the February issue of Wired Magazine , Global Business Network president Peter Schwartz echoed the same argument, but geared toward that magazine’s more libertarian and tech-savvy readers.


Good luck to them - but I think as long as the large, ugly, polluting industries remain in control of the US government the nuclear juggernaut is going to keep picking up steam (along with the equally repulsive, and equally problematic, attempts to start drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve - I believe the recent budget handed down included US$2.5 billion of anticipated drilling licence revenues from the ANWR, which is as clear a signal as you can get as to what is about to happen).

The Post-Oil Megacity  

Posted by Big Gav

WorldChanging has an article examining what cities might look like when the oil age ends. Your more hardcore peak oilers might term this vision "techno utopianism", but its a much more agreeable vision of the future than devolving back to a peasant lifestyle while fighting incessantly over the remaining oil reserves...

The kind of city we're building is a pivot point upon which prospects of a bright green future turn. As we come to the end of cheap oil and run up against evidence that carbon is changing our planet more suddenly than most would have thought, we're realizing that the pattern of suburban sprawl which for the last forty years has dominated North American cities (and influenced cities around the world) was a really dumb idea. Whatsmore, those suburbs themselves face real challenges, and may in their current incarnations be doomed.

What Will the Rest of the World Do If Saudi Oil Runs Out Early?  

Posted by Big Gav

Rigzone has picked up The Independent's article about the possiblity of Saudi Arabia running out of oil faster than currently envisioned.

Mr Simmons, the chairman and chief executive of a Texan energy investment bank, is calling for a new global standard of transparency for all serious oil and gas producers. He argues that 90 per cent of Saudi Arabia's oil comes from just five or six fields - of which the three most important were established before 1950.

He points out that reserves estimates have risen from 110 billion to 160 billion in 26 years without major new discoveries. He warns that Saudi oil production may be close to peaking, pointing to the increasing use of high-pressurised water to maintain production in some fields.

"At some point in time the 'water sweep' will end and the high reservoir pressure will drop. This is simply the ageing process of any oilfield," he says, pointing to the North Sea as an example.

His concerns have caught the attention of the US government's Energy Information Administration, which tracks data across the world's major producers. It is worried that the Saudis' fields are suffering from an annual rate of decline of between 5 and 12 per cent, meaning it would have to add 600,000 and 800,000 barrels a day in new capacity each year just to compensate.

Mr Simmons is not alone in gloomy forecasts for an end of oil production. The Association for the Study of Peak Oil believes the Middle East no longer has sufficient spare capacity to play a "swing role" in the market. It sees annual production peaking at 30 billion barrels in 2010 and declining to 12 billion by 2050.

Peak Oil and Our Government: What Energy Crisis?  

Posted by Big Gav

The Sydney Morning Herlad has finally gotten around to publishing something about Peak Oil. - even if its just confined to Margo Kingston's Web Diary. The guest author lives just around the corner from me, so clearly there are a few oil depletion obsessives in the neighbourhood. The political shift from Liberals to Greens in the richer parts of Sydney has been quite pronounced in the last couple of years, with the author following the usual path.

"I am a graphic designer and writer working out of my home in Crows Nest, Sydney. I spent most of his career in the advertising industry until deciding to start my own business. I was brought up correctly as a small l Liberal voter from the southern suburbs, remaining unchanged until the run up to the second Iraq war when I dumped the Liberals for The Greens. Since then, I've has been researching resource depletion issues, global warming and the environment in an effort to engage, discuss and hopefully educate on the issues. I may now be accurately described (or insulted) as a small l lefty, with a dislike for privatisation, corporate power and the destruction of the environment."

He notes that at least one member of the government has talked about the issue publically.
Australian political response to this issue has been muted, to say the least. In May 2004, Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson stated on the ABC's Insiders show that "at some stage in the next few short years global (oil) production may very well peak," one of the government's first admissions that a world oil production decline was approaching.

He also points to Cuba as an example of how many countries may have to adapt to little (or no) oil.
Cuba may give us some forewarning of what to expect. When the USSR collapsed in 1990, Cuba suffered an enormous oil shock when shipments from the USSR were no longer forthcoming. By 1993 there were no cars running, the public transport system collapsed and the streets were empty. How did they cope?

They imported two million heavy Chinese bicycles. They modified very large semi-trailers to transport three hundred people at a time. They took all their vehicles, large or small, motorised or animal powered, and built a mass transit system. Rickshaws are used in Havana while horse and carts are used in smaller towns.

They made a massive effort to rearrange their farming industry, adopting a system of local farms serving local communities and farms close to the cities serving the cities. They stopped transporting food long distances. They replaced petroleum-based pesticides with bio-pesticides and replaced tractors with oxen.

(via Flying Talking Donkey who is clearly monitoring the web closely).

More Methane Hydrates  

Posted by Big Gav

The US is following the Japanese lead into researching the use of methane hydrates.

So now we'll have some competition to see who can kick off the next end-permian event.

The End Of The Oil Standard  

Posted by Big Gav

The "other" Peak Energy beat me to the punch on this one (as it did to the name Peak Energy, I was dismayed to find out).

OPEC's decision to abandon its price band mechanism appears unnervingly like the Texas Railroad Commission's (OPEC's predecessor when the US was the world's biggest oil producer) decision to abandon production quotas in 1972, just after the original Hubbert's peak.

Brazil and Japan Link Up in Biofuel Pact  

Posted by Big Gav

Green Car Congress reports that Brazil and Japan developing a bilateral program to increase the production of ethanol and biodiesel in Brazil and its supply to the Japanese market.

I wonder if our glorious leaders in Canberra are considering a similar deal with China ? Even Johnny could see some benefits in that - he could hand out some more subsidies to his mates at Manildra for starters. And as a side benefit it would kick-start the local biofuel industry.

When Will World Oil Production Peak?  

Posted by Big Gav

Here's another basic introduction to Peak Oil from Built Green. It doesn't offer any new insights but its a good summary of the situation (their guess for a peak is 2013).

Back in 1956, when Hubbert told the oil industry that U.S. oil production should peak in about 1970, he nailed it. In an interview with this writer in 1988, Hubbert recalled that in 1956, oil industry and government reactions split evenly. Half his audience was in denial. "It won't happen during our lifetimes" was a typical line. The other half was bummed: "Why did you have to ruin our day?"

Most economists who examine the peak oil issue today complacently figure it will be a non-issue tomorrow. "We're clever. We'll figure out substitutes. The Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of stones."

I've read their perspectives and am not persuaded. They highlight new projects, yet ignore the daily declines of older fields worldwide. They sound like the critics during the 1950s and 1960s calling Hubbert a fool for his peaking prediction that ended up on target.

Today's peak oil alarmists include retired petroleum geologists and scientists, primarily Europeans. Given the world's lack of awareness about peak oil, they foresee the world economy smashing into a wall. In this country, Simmons speaks out more frequently and forcefully than anyone else about world oil issues. Back in 2001, he urged a "Marshall Plan" to drill our way out of our looming oil and natural gas problems. Now he seems more sobered by the scale of the changes we face, stressing the need for a balanced energy policy and the probability of a gradually shrinking economy.

Australian Oil Debate Revving Up  

Posted by Big Gav

Even Rupert Murdoch's "Australian" has started talking abut Peak Oil.

Apart from academic and scientific circles, 'peak oil' enjoys little currency locally and it runs wide of any government radar. Only the West Australian Government and the state's Sustainable Transport Coalition (STC) have acknowledged it. It's also rated a mere mention in the South Australian government Hansard.

The STC's Perth-based Bruce Robinson claims there's an 'intelligence failure of information' on the part of governments to clearly define any debate. The public is bombarded with incongruous information from governments and the oil industry, he says.

Robinson also attacks the 'perverse subsidies' that see a fuel-guzzling Toyota LandCruiser four-wheel drive enjoy an import tariff of just 5 per cent when a fuel-efficient Toyota Prius hybrid/electric hatch is 10 per cent.

The local divisions of Ford, Holden, Toyota and Mitsubishi all have access to well-funded global research into hybrids and hydrogen through their global parents. Ford and Holden are also known to be looking at the latest-generation diesels that could hit our roads sooner than alternative energy cars.

Fancy a Holden Commodore or Ford Falcon travelling more than 1000km on one tank of diesel? Well, the technology exists - it's just a matter of the market, diesel quality and infrastructure making it happen, according to Ford vice-president of product development Trevor Worthington.

Oil Crisis Down Under ?  

Posted by Big Gav

Bill Powers from "Canadian Energy Viewpoint" has written about a looming oil crisis in Australia.

While Australia’s natural resource-based economy has enjoyed tremendous growth along with the rebound in commodity prices worldwide, the country’s oil production continues to decline at a staggering pace. The country’s production peaked at 805,000 barrels of oil per day (bopd) in 2000 and only averaged 490,000 bopd in the first 10 months of 2004 (Source: US Department of Energy). I expect Australia’s oil production to continue to drop further in 2005 due to the lack of major new projects scheduled to come online. In this issue, I will examine many of the reasons behind Australia’s precipitous oil production decline, how the country is coping with the issue and most importantly, what it means for energy investors.

The opening paragraph makes some sense - oil production in Australia is definitely dropping - although the impact of this seems to have been more than offset by a number of factors, which has made "coping" pretty straightforward so far.

These factors include the rise in the Australian dollar in recent years, which has kept oil prices fairly static in local currency this decade, and the fact that Australia is a net energy exporter, with natural gas, coal and uranium exports surging (in both quantity and prices attained) during this period.

The article then goes on to note the steep decline since production peaked, which is logical given that most production was from a small group of fields in Bass Strait which were exploited together, supplemented in the peak stage by a quickly depleted offshore field (Laminaria/Corallina).

While it is difficult to pinpoint the reason for the nearly 40% decline in Australia’s oil production over the last four years, I believe the country has been a victim of both Hubbert’s Peak and poor government policy. The main thesis behind Hubbert’s Peak is that once half of the reserves of a specific petroleum producing region have been produced, that region will go into permanent and irreversible decline along a bell shaped curve. As evidenced by the below table, oil production in Australia was relatively flat for years prior to peaking in 2000.

Once the country achieved peak oil production, however it did not decline gradually as one might expect, production fell off a cliff. How did this happen? Shouldn’t production have declined more gradually according to Hubbert’s Peak theory? I believe there are several additional factors that contributed to Australia’s oil production decline. First, oil discovery in Australia was very concentrated in a few fields (over half of the country’s reserves are concentrated in a handful of fields) and several of the country’s biggest fields were discovered nearly simultaneously. Without flush production from new field discoveries to replace declining output from more mature fields, production has gone into a steep decline.


Things then get a bit weird. Firstly the lack of exploration and discovery is blamed on the government and local energy firms, which seems ridiculous, given that many of our reserves are controlled by the likes of ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco and Apache Energy (and locals like Santos and Woodside are primarily gas producers, even though the high oil price has made their oil discoveries more important in recent years). Is this nonsense based on any evidence ?

Surely some of the blame for Australia’s declining oil production can be traced to years of poor governmental policy. Australia’s energy industry, up until very recently, was dominated by only a few very large firms such as Santos and Woodside Petroleum, who controlled nearly all of the most prospective acreage.

After that it simply seems to ignore reality and begins contradicting itself. A table listing proven reserves at the end of each year from 1980 to 2003 is included. This data shows reserves starting at 2.13 billion barrels, dropping to 1.56 billion barrels in 1996, then steadily climbing to 3.5 billion barrels in 2003 (ie. reserves more than doubled in the past 8 years).

A final explanation for Australia’s oil production retreat, may be the simple fact that there might not be that much oil left to find. Australia is the world’s driest continent and lacks much of the organic material required for the creation of oil. Despite dramatic improvements in seismic and offshore drilling technologies that have opened up huge new areas for exploration, Australia’s reserves have barely budged over the years. The below table clearly displays the difficulty the country has had in growing its oil reserves.

While the reasoning seems sound enough, unfortunately it is in opposition to the facts presented. Australian production may well have peaked - but given that proven reserves are growing quite rapidly it seems rather premature to claim this is a fact (particularly as Santos's recent discovery at Jeruk adds another 10% or so to the reserves as of 2003).

This sort of analysis will give peak oil theorists a bad name if it is repeated in similar sloppy fashion for other countries.

(via Lowem)

Whale Oil Depletion  

Posted by Big Gav

Fears about depletion of whale oil have been proved to be unfounded by the non-partisan experts at Whale Central Station (via Mobjectivist)

Actually, maybe this is fundamentally correct (if you extract the whale oil at the right rate) - at least whales are renewable !

Kunstler on China  

Posted by Big Gav

Here's a less than inspiring view on China through the peak oil prism.

"Conclusion: in the next twenty years, China is certain to contest militarily for the world's remaining oil with what has been the prime customer for its manufacturing output. That would be America.

While the US is fraught with multiple economic difficulties -- energy dependence, loss of productive activity, debt meltdown, an ongoing expensive war -- China has problems that are even more fundamentally ominous -- a population much more advanced in ecological overshoot, severe environmental destruction, and a water crisis that is manifesting, among other ways, in steeply falling grain harvests (on top of energy and resource dependence, unregulated banking, and the prospect of huge industrial overcapacity in the face of bankrupt customers).

Those of us Boomers, who were reading newspapers in the 1960s can recall China's capacity for political psychosis. It's been forty years since the 'cultural revolution.' The Davos Sages seem to assume that China is a stable country. The Clusterfuck view sees it differently. As the American consumer / sprawl economy sputters, China will find itself in desperate circumstances: starved for energy, stuck with zillions of unsold coffee-makers and barn jackets, racked with unemployment, and hard-put to feed its own people.

The Last Hours Of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartmann  

Posted by Big Gav

This is the first book I read on Peak Oil, and I'd recommend it to anyone who is interested in the subject.

I had come across the topic a few times over the preceding year, in share tip sheets that referred ominously to Hubbert's Peak (which I basically ignored thinking it an attempt to further push up the price of oil and gas companies, which were already running due to the rising price of oil) and various conspiracy theory sites (which I also ignored thinking that they sounded too crazy in general for this aspect to be taken too seriously).

Eventually I came across some of George Monbiot's articles which referred to the concept from a number of angles, which were a bit harder to ignore. By pure coincidence, I'd bought this book at the same time simply because I'd liked reading some of Thom Hartmann's columns in the lead up to the 2004 US election and I thought I'd see what his books were like.

The book covers a range of topics - the creation and use of oil, ecology, older and younger cultures and the problems with societies based on the idea of infinite growth. It veers off onto some new age style religious stuff at the end, but even so - its an interesting read.

The Sum Of All Fears  

Posted by Big Gav

One clear risk to the world economy at the moment is the possibility that peak oil will have a sudden onset - in the form of a revolution in Saudi Arabia or a series of well targeted attacks on oil infrastructure.

Hopefully the neocons take the green option rather than simply trying to occupy as many oil producing regions as they can (which doesn't appear to be very many based on the Iraq experience).

Stopping this flow is easier than many think. More than half of Saudi oil reserves are found in just eight fields; two-thirds of all Saudi crude is processed at a single mega-facility in Abqaiq, near the Gulf of Bahrain. From here, the oil is shipped through two primary terminals. The larger of the two, Ras Tanura, processes a tenth of the world's oil supply daily; the other, Yanbu, is connected to Abqaiq by an unprotected 750-mile umbilical pipeline. Were a terrorist cell to hijack a few planes in Kuwait and crash them into these facilities—soft targets all—it could take up to 50 percent of Saudi oil off the market for at least six months and with it most of the world's spare capacity, sending oil prices through the ceiling, predicts Gal Luft.

Meanwhile, Saudi assurances about the security of their facilities get emptier by the day. Al Qaeda attacks in the Kingdom have been on the rise since the invasion of Iraq, beginning with a series of May 2003 Riyadh bombings and continuing with last month's daring attack on the U.S. Consulate compound in Jeddah. All signs point to major attempts on Saudi oil infrastructure sooner rather than later.

Even if it were possible to secure the world's major processing and shipping facilities, there is no way to secure the tens of thousands of miles of aboveground pipelines that traverse every major oil producing country, from the Gulf states to Uzbekistan to Nigeria. The aortic imagery often found in jihadist communiqu├ęs about oil—"The artery of the life of the crusader's nation!"—is both a strategic insight for jihad and a physical description of oil's role in the global economy. If the Saudi mega-refinery in Abqaiq is a giant exposed beating heart, then the world's pipelines are vast networks of soft, external veins, easily pierced with the military equivalent of an insulin syringe from the local pharmacy.

"Systems sabotage is amazingly effective," says analyst John Robb. "Small attacks that cost less than $2,000 have caused billions in damages—a return on investment of 100,000 times. Most 'inside the beltway' analysts don't understand systems theory. So they focus on large scale attacks on major facilities, but these aren't necessary. As we have seen in Iraq, protecting major facilities doesn't matter if you sever the connections between them."

As it happens, the solution to the emerging sabotage threat is the same as the solution to Peak Oil: move the world economy away from dependence on oil as quickly as humanly possible. To do this, nothing less than a global Manhattan Project is needed, led by the United States and Europe in concert.

This radical view is becoming less radical in some corners of the national security establishment. This September, a cluster of conservative think tanks put forth a document named "Set America Free," calling for increased fuel-efficiency and the rapid development of renewable energy. At a press conference later this week in Washington, the original signatories—including the Hudson Institute, the Center for Security Policy and the Foundation for Defense of Democracy—will be joined by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation's largest environmental group. This Green-Hawk alliance is just the latest manifestation of the spreading anxiety over the ticking clocks of depletion and sabotage. One way or the other, the Age of Oil is coming to an end, and soon. The only question is what we're going to do about it.

Bio-Hydrogen  

Posted by Big Gav

This article discusses generating hydrogen using bacterial processes. Maybe there could be a renewable basis for a hydrogen economy after all.

Whether or not it would be as efficient as, say, biodiesel made from algae for example, is another matter of course.

We've talked before about baby steps toward a hydrogen economy. Those are important to keep in mind, but if we are ever going to completely transition, we need to solve the problem of massive amounts of cheap hydrogen made from renewable sources. Reforming oil or natural gas is fine for the short term, while you figure out the long term, but you still end up with the same carbon emissions as you had before, and the atmosphere heats up just as fast.

Proposals for creating hydrogen from solar electricity, geothermal sources, and wind power are all enticing, and will definitely be a part of the process. But we wonder how these methods can expand to fill the 68% of energy usage gap left by oil and coal in the US (and probably only slightly lower in other countries); why aren't we already completely replacing our coal power plants with solar or wind?

If the answer is cost, and it very well may be, there is a huge opportunity under development by biologists around the world. With the adoption of a biotic system for producing hydrogen, you would loose the costs of upkeep and heavy price of expanding the system; Bacteria and algae take care of their own upkeep, and if you want more of them, the reproduce automatically!

Recently, there has been considerable press about "newly discovered" hydrogen producing bacteria in hotsprings and thermal vents. While new species are being found all the time, the genera has been researched for at least 15 years and has considerable success under its belt.

To generate biotic hydrogen, there are two main methods. Both involve collecting energy from the sun in plants, and then converting that stored plant energy into hydrogen with a bacteria.

Could Nuclear Power Be the Answer to the Energy Crisis?  

Posted by Big Gav

TreeHugger asks Could Nuclear Power Be the Answer to the Energy Crisis ?. Peter Schwarz of GBN - in this Wired article - seems to think so.

Some of the world's most thoughtful greens have discovered the logic of nuclear power, including Gaia theorist James Lovelock, Greenpeace cofounder Patrick Moore, and Britain's Bishop Hugh Montefiore, a longtime board member of Friends of the Earth (see "Green vs. Green," page 82). Western Europe is quietly backing away from planned nuclear phaseouts. Finland has ordered a big reactor specifically to meet the terms of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. China's new nuke plants - 26 by 2025 - are part of a desperate effort at smog control.

The Financial Review's recent article on peak oil also picked on nuclear energy as a winner (sparking the recent surge in uranium miner stock prices).

The depletion picture for uranium is unclear though (to me at least) - on the one hand, Professor David Goodstein of Caltech thinks this isn't a viable long term solution:

The other kind of nuclear power is the conventional fission kind that we already use and that's a very well established technology. People are afraid of it. They don't like it. There's reason to be afraid of it. We have to do it with intelligence and care. Nevertheless, when the oil source is running out, the need for it likely to become a compelling reason to return to it. However, you have to be careful. You have to look at it quantitatively. That is, in order to make enough nuclear energy to replace all of fossil fuel we burn today, you would have to build ten thousand of the largest nuclear plants possible. Ten thousand, that's not impossible but it is certainly a daunting task. Even if you did that, the known uranium reserves would last at that burn rate for only one or two decades.

On the other hand, some commentators in the financial press here have been saying (when discussing the merits of WMC's uranium based defence against Xstrata's takeover offer) that uranium is actually pretty common - the shortage of supply is due purely to the lack of demand over the last decade thanks to cheaply available ex-Russian weapons material supplying a lot of what was required.

It may be that this is true, but that if you increase demand enough uranium depletes just like any other resource (unless you believe in viable breeder reactors of course). I wonder if there is a Hubbert style analysis of uranium depletion out there ?

Treehugger's Top Five Random Energy Sources  

Posted by Big Gav

This article discusses five little known alternative (and environmentally friendly) energy sources.

February ASPO Newsletter  

Posted by Big Gav

The February ASPO Newsletter is now out. The overall peak is still estimated for 2007.

The item included below discusses their predicted scenario for the current financial system, which is definitely at the gloomy end of the spectrum.

I'm still trying to work out if the collapse of an interest based / fractional reserve banking system is inevitable - is it still possible to have some form of economic "growth" (no doubt accompanied by a lot of inflation), or at least stagflation, which would prevent the system from abruptly collapsing ?

Sure, living standards and real incomes get eroded (with the poor and newly unemployed members of the middle class getting hit the hardest), but if it happens slowly enough then this would seem to be feasible (albeit with a lot of fighting over resources accompanying the decline).

And maybe an economic frenzy accompanying a rush towards alternative, hopefully renewable, energy sources (along with ugly alternatives like increased coal and nuclear use) is also possible for a time.

George Monbiot tends to believe not though - see "Living In the Age of Entropy" and "No Longer Obeying Orders".

The Dawn of the Second Half of the Age of Oil.

This Newsletter has now been running for four years and has covered almost 500 items of interest. It is accordingly perhaps timely to look back and try to summarise what might be learnt from the exercise. The Newsletter started in a modest way with no particular mission, concentrating at first on the more technical aspects of the matter. Later, it came to cover various related geopolitical issues, some of a sensitive nature. Gradually a picture began to fall into place, which may be summarised as follows:

The Industrial Revolution opened in the mid 18th Century with the exploitation of coal, initially in Britain, providing a new fuel for industry, transport and trade, which grew rapidly. The Oil Age dawned 100 years later, initially to provide lamp-oil for illumination, but later to fuel transport, following the development of the Internal Combustion Engine. Electricity generation expanded widely, fuelled first by coal, but later mainly from oil, gas and nuclear energy. This epoch has been widely seen as one of amazing technological progress, which has conditioned many people to think that there must always be a technological solution.

The Industrial Revolution was accompanied by an equally important, but less visible, Financial Revolution. In short, commercial banks lent money in excess of what they had on deposit, effectively creating money out of thin air, but the system worked because tomorrow’s expansion provided collateral for to-day’s debt. It was effectively a system of confidence, an intrinsic element of all debt. So, it might be better termed the Financial-Industrial Revolution.

The Stock Markets evolved from being simply an exchange of dividend-yielding instruments to become largely speculative institutions, being in turn stimulated by the tax regime that gave preferential treatment to speculative gains. In addition, World trading currencies, previously the pound sterling and now the US dollar, delivered massive hidden returns to the issuing countries, becoming in effect the prime benefit of Empire.

The World’s population expanded six-fold exactly in parallel with oil, which provided much of the fuel with which to plough the field, and bring food and manufactured goods to market, thus indirectly supporting the Financial System. The international of transport of food reduced the risk of local famines when harvests failed for climatic and other reasons.

The Second Half of the Oil Age now dawns and will be characterised by the decline of oil, followed by gas, and all that depends upon these prime energy sources. The actual decline of oil will be gradual at less than three percent a year: such that the production of all liquid hydrocarbons in 2020 will have fallen to approximately what it was in 1990. In those terms, it does not appear to be a particularly serious situation. But in reality, it is a devastating development because it implies that the oil-based economy is in permanent terminal decline, removing the confidence in perpetual growth on which the Financial System depends. Without the assumption of ever-onward growth, borrowing and lending dry up: there being little viable left to invest in. It follows that there will be a need to remove vast amounts of so-called Capital, which in fact was not Capital in the sense of being the saved proceeds of labour, but merely an expression of speculative confidence in ever onward economic growth. This in turn leads to the conclusion that the World faces another Great Depression, triggered more by the perception of long term decline of the general economy rather than the actual decline of oil supply itself which is gradual not cataclysmic. The World is definitely not about to run out of oil, but it does face the onset of decline having consumed about half of what is readily available on the Planet.

This is not welcome news, and those with mindsets conditioned on past experience find it very difficult to accept, some becoming vituperative in their reaction. In terms of pragmatic politics, it is virtually impossible for Governments to plan and prepare with logical strategies to face the new world that opens. Accordingly, the transition will likely be a time of international tension and resource wars of which the first salvoes have already been fired. But some of the more philosophically inclined wonder if in fact the post-oil world might not turn out to be a more harmonious one for the survivors. There are indeed hopes, Deus volens, that they may number somewhat more than the Planet was able to support prior to what by then will be seen to have been the brief Age of Oil, during which the World consumed its inheritance of fossil sunshine.


One more quibble is that as far as I can tell, coal is still the dominant source of electricity (not oil, gas and nuclear) - certainly in Australia its overwhelmingly number 1. Shame about the greenhouse emissions.

Vulture Capitalists  

Posted by Big Gav

Mobjectivist deconstructs a cornucopian energy fantasy - "Oil, Oil Everywhere" by Peter Huber and Mark Mills (embarrassingly, one is an Engineer and the other a Physicist).

I think blaming people from the middle east for pretty much any problem you can think of is a sure fire way to get published in the US these days.

One of the primary fantasies relied on by the article is the bountiful supply of tar sands that we can extract oil from (maybe Bondy should get these guys to write some independent analysis for the flood of prospectuses he is no doubt preparing for his Madagascan venture).

One commenter describes the tar sand potential as this:

Alberta: Wikipedia says "at most 315 billion barrels are considered recoverable by the oil companies given current technology", and this report says proven reserves are 174 billion barrels: http://www.energy.gov.ab.ca/osd/docs/osgenbrf.pdf

Presently extraction costs are $15/barrel. That gives you an EROEI of >3, assuming all energy spent in the process is in the form of oil and included in the costs.

The Orinoco reserves are about equal to the Alberta reserves. So with EROEI=2, the proven reserves would give us 175 [billion] barrels, enough to last almost six years at the current rate. Is this accounted for in the ASPO model?


The ASPO's depletion model (PDF) has a "Heavy etc" component of 160 barrels, which is roughly equivalent to this 175 Gbarrel estimate (and many people have noted extracting this oil requires natural gas, which is already in decline in North America).

Meditations On Collapse  

Posted by Big Gav

Richard Heinberg has reviewed Jared Diamond's book "Collapse". He seems to be pretty disappointed with the book as a whole, but makes some interesting comments.

One hesitates to criticize too harshly a book that tries to tell the world a truth that all too many refuse to hear. And yet this isn't the book that it could have been. At this point in time, we could stand a prominent book by an important author that finally announces what so many of us know all too well: collapse has begun.

Such a message need not be fatalistic in tone, because fatalism implies absence of choice. Diamond is right: we always have some control over events, or at least our response to events. The choice we have now is not as to whether our society will collapse, but how. Ladies and gentleman, the ship is sinking. I suggest that we set aside our immediate plans and consider how best to proceed, given the facts.


I found the comment about economic limits to growth quite interesting (even if I'm not sure I entirely agree with it - limits to growth have to be dealt with, but that doesn't mean there aren't ways around them. Nor does the collapse of the US economy necessarily imply the collapse of the rest of the world's - I'm sure Bhutan, for example, probably won't notice).

At the same time, the global economic system and the world's monetary system are becoming increasingly dysfunctional for other reasons. Currently, the US dollar functions as the global reserve currency, and the dollar (like most other currencies) is loaned into existence at interest. This means that continual economic growth is structurally required in order to stave off a currency crash. Yet infinite growth within a closed system (e.g., the Earth) is impossible. So how long can growth continue? There are strong signs that the American economy, and hence that of the entire world, is headed soon toward a "correction" of unprecedented proportions. US debt (in the forms of consumer debt, government debt, and trade deficits) is at truly frightening levels and the American mortgage and real estate bubbles appear ready to burst at any moment. If one looks deeper, there are still other reasons to conclude that the global economy has nearly reached fundamental and non-negotiable restrictions on expansion. In his book The Limits of Business Development and Economic Growth (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), business strategist Mats Larsson makes the point that most of technology and business development in the past has had as its goal the reduction of time and cost in manufacturing. But nothing can be done at less than no time or at less than no cost. He cites the example of the printing and distribution of books and other written media: with these, Gutenberg famously reduced time and cost. Now, the Internet enables the electronic reproduction and distribution of books, films, and music at almost no cost and in almost no time. Similarly, labor cost in China is probably now at close to the absolute theoretical minimum. Larsson's conclusion is that economic growth is perilously close to its ultimate bounds, even when resource constraints are not factored into the calculation.

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