Peak Oil Is Irrelevant ?  

Posted by Big Gav in

TreeHugger has a somewhat provocatively titled post proclaiming the end of peak oil - Peak Oil Is Irrelevant.

Unlike the less informed articles of this type which predict a never ending gushing of unconventional oil at an indeterminate price this one correctly notes that while there may be a lot of unconventional oil out there (which traditional peak oil analysis ignored, to it's cost), the price point it is produced at and the alternatives available are what will shape the demand / supply curve into the future.

The prediction that US oil production would peak in the 1970s was, in fact, accurate, but new discoveries – including North American sources involving fracking and tar sands – keep pushing the timeline outward. Some say we will always find new oil sources, though economic theory states they will also get inexorably more expensive.

Recent discussions have revived the peak oil debate. A Business Insider article last spring claimed “it is probably safe to say we have slayed "peak oil" once and for all, thanks to the combination new shale oil and gas production techniques and declining fuel use.” It was counterpointed here. But I basically don’t care.

All the talk of peak oil, that we are running out of fossil fuels and therefore need alternatives — or that we’re not and therefore there’s nothing to worry about — is a distraction. In fact, it’s worse than a distraction; it’s misleading because it makes people think that the goal is to find more oil. And that then gives people the impression that since we, in fact, do have existing and yet-to-be-found sources, we don’t have any energy problems. That’s a dangerous path.

The problem, as Sami Grover wrote in a Treehugger post in 2012, is not a lack of carbon-based fuels. The problem is that, if we use those fuels, the resulting greenhouse gas emissions will push the atmosphere far off the critical balance needed to maintain the climate. In other words, those sources – coal, oil, gas – must be left in the ground. Burning them is nothing less than suicide.

The only reason we should really care about peak oil is that it means oil will be getting increasingly expensive and, as that happens, renewable sources will become more competitive. (And that’s before factoring in technical and manufacturing advances for renewables. And certainly before factoring in the unaccounted for “external” costs of non-renewables. When you do that, renewables simply become an even more overwhelmingly obvious choice.)

2 comments

I agree that the peak oil debate is moot. The real issue is that we can't convince politicians that there is market failure in pricing the externalities for greenhouse gases which are far more subtle in their impact than the traditional externalities of cerosive chemicals, lead based petrols and the like. I don't think using climate change is going to work in Aus and the US. Like the gasses themselves, we need more subtle arguments like how amazing economies will be with free energy (ala wind and solar) and how we can get there quicker if we get rid of poluting coal fired plants and combustion engines. We need a positive and a negative story (pardon tge pun). If politicians can sell charging for the more toxic emissions from cars and power stations along with the economic growth available when energy is free then maybe they'll have a better chance. Nothing beats showing an aesthmaric kid weazing on a current affair in front of Loy Yang.

I'm all for repeated demonstrations of positive and negative stories highlighting the benefits of renewable energy and the drawbacks of fossil fuels...

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