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Peak Oil

Crude Awakening

Kevin Drum, Washington Monthly
The only hope for meeting growing world demand for oil, say experts, is to tap Saudi Arabia’s reserves. A Bush advisor on energy says those reserves don’t exist.
As recently as a few years ago, only two groups of people were interested in the arid subject of oil depletion. The first was Texas oil moguls and their lobbyists who roamed the halls of Congress searching out ever juicier tax breaks from our elected representatives. The second was a tiny group of cranks and conspiracy theorists who not only wrote for Scientific American but also frequented the sparsely inhabited corners of the Internet and begged the world to pay attention to the obscure topic of “peak oil”-whether the world wanted to pay attention or not.

Fast forward to 2005, and the oil moguls haven’t changed much. The peak oil cranks, on the other hand, are cranks no longer. In fact, they’ve practically become rock stars. Half a dozen books on the subject have come out in the last two years, and magazines from Rolling Stone to National Geographic also have published articles on the subject. The “end of oil” is suddenly a hot topic.

…This is the elephant in the room, and it’s something that nearly everyone agrees on. If Saudi Arabia can’t double its output, there’s not much hope that worldwide oil production can increase very much either. In the end, it turns out that everything hinges on Saudi Arabia.

…Another analyst who made the post-9/11 pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia was Matthew Simmons, a one time contributor to George Bush’s energy plan during the 2000 campaign. An investment banker who has specialized in the energy industry for 30 years, Simmons visited Saudi Arabia for six days in 2003 as part of a U.S. energy delegation and, like Roberts, came away skeptical. Could Saudi Arabia really double its production rate over the next decade? For that matter, could it increase its production rate at all? Or had Saudi production already peaked?

…The result of his analysis is Twilight in the Desert, whose title summarizes his conclusion: He thinks Saudi oil production-and therefore world oil production-is in a lot more trouble than anyone is letting on.

…it’s likely that we’re now in a permanent state of near zero spare capacity, which in turn will lead to an increasingly unstable world. As we enter an era in which even Saudi Arabia has no spare capacity to smooth out supply disruptions elsewhere in the world, any blip in supply, whether from political unrest, terrorism, or merely unforeseen natural events, will cause prices to carom wildly. A world with $100 per barrel oil is bad enough, but a world in which a single pipeline meltdown could cause prices to skyrocket to $300 per barrel for a few months and then back down is far worse.

…What to do? Any serious policy solution has to be based on four fundamental pillars: increased production, development of alternative fuels, conservation, and increased efficiency. And because these are all very long lead items, the time to start is now. After all, if the peak oil theorists are right, we have only a few years left until oil production peaks and then starts to decline. But even if they’re wrong, the peak is still only 10 or 20 years down the road-and instability induced by spare capacity is a looming problem regardless.

…If we’re not prepared, though, the bad news of peak oil becomes potentially catastrophic: An oil shock leading to global recession at best and a long string of resource wars at worst. Given the choice between these two bad alternatives, and the long lead time required to implement any kind of serious energy plan, we’d be well advised to get started now.
(6 June 2005)
This article in the influential liberal journal, Washington Monthly, follows a series on Peak Oil in Kevin’s top-rated blog, Political Animal.

Interview with Matthew Simmons
Sean-Paul Kelley, The Agonist
PART 1 Bush connection, Saudi Arabia:

PART 2 Saudi Arabia decline rate and the possiblities of a production collapse

PART 3 Peak Oil: Not sustainable but insatiable

From PART 3:
SPK: …what’s the solution?

MRS: Once it is clear that Saudi Arabia has passed sustainable peak production because once that happens then the world has categorically passed sustainable peak production.

One of the things we need to do is understand the true value of a really scarce resource. You know, we wasted most of the great oil, by giving it away. And get people appreciating that oil and natural gas need to be at prices that are vastly higher than what they are today. And once they get to that people won’t get disturbed or mad. They’ll accept it.

It’s interesting the steps we can take that really aren’t exactly as draconian as they sound on the surface. You got to fix the transportation market. 70% of every barrel of oil used in the world today is used to transportation. But there are some really interesting fixes. If you put all of the goods we now move by long haul trucks and get them off the highways and put them on the rails that has an energy efficiency of between five and ten fold, as opposed to five or ten percent. And that is not an impossible mission from a five to seven year time if we had to do it.

There is a huge side benefit to that. By eliminating the trucks on the road we actually make a bug dent on traffic congestion. Traffic congestion is public enemy numbers 1 through 8 on passenger car fuel efficiency. And so we can have all of these Priuses and hybrids, don’t get me wrong they are great. I drive a fabulous new Diesel Mercedes and I get, on the open road, as long as there is no traffic, I can get almost 50 miles to the gallon. But when I am in stop-and-go traffic I get between 5-11 miles to the gallon.

You have to address traffic congestion and you have to address some of these areas where there are magnitudes of savings and then we have to learn to do things like distributed work. The miracle of the internet and working online. It took three months to get my firm online. Rather than have people drive for two hours in the afternoon and two hours in the evening we will actually adjust to people working in their neighborhood for their company.

And we need to learn how to make things closer to home.

Then there is agriculture. Food models. Apples sold in the summer in the UK 85-90% of them comes from New Zealand. That’s a 22,000 mile journey for an apple! If we went back to growing our food closer to home which is easily done, we could help our economy, get better apples because they are local, and we save enormous amounts on money on energy/transport costs. We can make those changes in a 5-10 year period of time without going into an energy war.
(3, 6 and 7 June 2005)
William Murray recommended the interview at CybeRedoubt.

Energy-related News

Shell predicts two decades of rising energy prices

Michael Harrison, The Independent
Worldwide energy prices are set to rise over the next two decades as individual countries become more concerned about ensuring security of supply and governments take a more pro-active role in dictating energy policy and regulating markets, according to the latest global outlook from the oil giant Shell.

Its “global scenarios” report, the first to be produced since the twin shocks of the terror attacks of 11 September 2001 and the Enron scandal, also suggests that Shell in common with other oil majors will place more emphasis on developing renewable energy sources such as wind and solar than extracting more hydrocarbons through unconventional means.
(7 June 2005)

Oil field’s falling production reflects U.S. trend
Technology postpones inevitable at Prudhoe Bay

Justin Blum, Washington Post via MSNBC
PRUDHOE BAY, Alaska – Oil keeps flowing through a maze of aging wells, pumps and pipelines that poke through the snow on this desolate North Slope tundra. But this vast field is ailing: Output has fallen by nearly 75 percent from its peak in 1987 and is expected to continue dropping.

The Prudhoe Bay field sprawling over an area the size of Howard County still pumps more oil than any other site in the United States. But its shrinking production reflects a trend throughout the country: After years of pumping, fields in the U.S. are drawing less oil from the ground.

The implications for U.S. energy policy are profound. At a time when President Bush and members of Congress are talking about the need to be less dependent on foreign oil, the country is becoming even more dependent. As U.S. production declines, demand has been increasing.
(7 June 2005)

Tankers carry oil and a story

“Heading out”, The Oil Drum
Prediction in the industries associated with oil is a risky business. Consider the case of the world tanker fleet. If the world supply is to continue to grow to match demand, then the amount that must be shipped around the world will likely grow at least in proportion and likely more, since as domestic supplies run out more must be imported to more countries.
(7 June 2005)

Long Beach at Crossroads Over Plans for LNG Plant

Deborah Schoch, LA Times
Long Beach must have seemed the perfect location for a liquefied natural gas terminal when Mitsubishi Corp. unfurled its plans more than two years ago for the $450-million project. This is not a city that shies from the ugly realities of energy production. Oil pumps still bob in the Los Cerritos marshes, and those palm-dotted islands offshore are really poorly disguised oil derricks.

But despite this port city’s reputation as pro-industry, the proposed LNG terminal has set off a furious debate over safety. Under pressure from a coalition of LNG critics, the City Council will consider Tuesday whether to cut off talks with a Mitsubishi subsidiary, a move that could doom the terminal.

Slow to react, Long Beach now joins many other towns, from rural Maine to Oregon, where fierce community opposition has ignited as more than 40 terminals have been proposed along the nation’s coasts. With domestic supplies of the gas that fuels stoves, heaters and power plants on the decline, the industry is increasingly looking to import it.

At the center of the debate in Long Beach and nationwide are concerns that an accident or terrorist attack at an urban LNG facility could puncture a massive tanker or storage tank and create a conflagration.

But LNG supporters counter that cities in Europe and Asia have imported liquefied gas for decades without a major release or terminal fire, and they call the current fears overblown.
(6 June 2005)

Bolivia’s president offers to resign amid protests

Patrick Markey, Reuters via AlertNet
LA PAZ, Bolivia, June 7 (Reuters) – Bolivian President Carlos Mesa submitted his resignation late on Monday as he sought to end weeks of crippling protests over nationalization of the country’s natural gas reserves that triggered the worst political crisis in his 19 months in office.

Mesa, a political independent with little support in Congress, had struggled to stay in power as he faced growing Indian demands for more state control of Latin America’s second largest natural gas reserves and calls for more independence from rebellious regional provinces.
(7 June 2005)

Mesa Appears Close to Resigning
Half a million estimated in the streets

Luis Gomez, The Narcosphere
I write to you a few blocks from the Palace of Government. While around half a million people have mobilized in the streets of La Paz today, the rumors in the streets and information coming to us from government sources agree: President Mesa could resign at any time. If this happens, the President of the National Congress, Senator Hormando Vaca Diez, would have to assume the presidency, and will have already reached an agreement with the Armed Forces to immediately decree a state of siege.

A little more history was written today, Monday, June 6, in the streets of the seat of government, the city of La Paz: The most combative sectors of the social movements (the urban and rural Aymara, the miners and El Alto university students, among others) have expanded their siege of the center of State power: there have been clashes with the police for ours in attempts to take the Plaza Murillo.

This morning there were more people in the streets than before, possibly more than ever before in the recent history of social mobilizations in Bolivia. Perhaps half a million people, perhaps more, according to the calculations of a leader from District 8 of El Alto.
(6 June 2005)

Summary: a Look at Bolivian Protests

Associated Press via The Guardian
AT STAKE: Whether President Carlos Mesa will stay until the end of his term in August 2007 and the future of Bolivia, a poor and politically unstable Andean country of 9 million. Mesa offered his resignation for the second time this year because of street protests.

WHO’S PROTESTING: Indian groups, labor unions, teachers, miners and coca leaf farmers demanding the nationalization of Bolivia’s energy industry and a constitutional assembly to write a new constitution that boosts indigenous representation in Congress.

THE CRUX: Bolivia’s gas reserves – the second largest in South America – have become a battleground between pro- and anti-globalization groups.
(7 June 2005

Solutions and Sustainability

Launch date set for solar sailing ship

Tim Radford, The Guardian
After years of false starts, disappointment and delay, one of spaceflight’s brightest hopes could be about to take to the skies. Cosmos 1, the world’s first solar sailing ship, could be launched from a Russian nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea in two weeks.

On June 21, if all goes well, a Soviet Volna rocket originally designed to deliver nuclear warheads will push a 100kg (220lb) American-designed spacecraft to an orbit 500 miles high. The payload will open and like the petals of a flower, eight huge triangular blades 15 metres long will unfurl to reflect the rays of the sun.

Cosmos 1 – a dream of the late visionary astronomer Carl Sagan, his wife Ann Druyan and his friend Louis Friedman, a former Nasa scientist – will be the first practical test of science fiction technology.

In the vacuum of space, even light has force. Particles of light that slam against the fragile sails – only a thousandth of a millimetre thick – will begin to accelerate the space clipper. The acceleration will be tiny, but in the course of a day the spacecraft may have gained 45 metres a second or 100 miles an hour. After 100 days in the sun it could get up to 10,000mph. In three years, such a spacecraft could be the fastest manmade thing in space, without using a drop of rocket fuel.
(7 June 2005)