Another Comment On The End Of The Oil Drum  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

I quite like this comment on Stuart Staniford's farewell to The Oil Drum as a quick summary of the current state of peak oil.

The one small disagreement I have is that things are boring at the moment. Although liquids are usually measured by volume, what really counts is the net energy which they yield to society. This is more nuanced and complicated than the original peak oil story based on conventional oil alone, but as such is rather more interesting.

The shallow upward gradient in C+C is entirely due to tar sands and tight oil, both marginal sources of supply at large environmental cost. Tar sands relies on cheap natural gas to be profitable. Tight oil is a classic bubble with misallocation of capital, woeful regulation and sharly diminishing returns. The situation with tight oil in particular seems to be quite dynamic, with significant yearly changes to flow rates, drilling and average returns.

An oft used metaphor is the cartoon coyote running off the edge of the cliff, legs pumping furiously. How long can the frantic motion delay the inevitable onset of gravity? We're seeing the dregs of liquid fuels being sucked out of the earth in a desperate attempt to keep our hydrocarbon addiction going. Each month sees a deterioration in EROI, so net energy is likely flat or at best rising very slowly.

Assuming 'peak oil' is defined as maximum rate of net energy flow, then I suspect we are not many years away. Tar sands can continue to expand slowly it seems, but tight oil will peak in volume terms this decade, and earlier in net energy terms.

I can understand that the original TOD cohort are feeling tired, after the peak oil debate has taken some unexpected twists and we're in an apparently stable phase. But dig down into the detail and IMO the key elements of peak oil are playing out in front of us, today, this year and for the next few years. In many ways it's a privilege to see and understand what's happening at such a critical inflexion point. In other ways is scary, because most of the world is still deep in denial and we'll have to adapt in uncomfortable ways once the net energy peak is passed (we ain't seen nothing yet).

All the main TOD contibutors should feel proud of providing such a valuable role in shaping awareness of peak oil and its likely remifications.

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