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Peak Oil

Book Review:
Kenneth Deffeyes’ Beyond Oil forecasts a fast-approaching petroleum peak

Jennifer Weeks, Grist Magazine
Mark your calendar: annual world production of crude oil will reach its peak this coming Thanksgiving, Nov. 24. At least, that’s the tongue-half-in-cheek prediction of Kenneth Deffeyes, who starts his latest book by suggesting that readers stop and give thanks for a century of plentiful supplies.

After the Princeton University geologist offers this figurative toast, the discussion turns serious. In Deffeyes’ view, it’s well past time to start thinking about what will keep society running as oil supplies start to shrink. Contrary to supply-side optimists who believe innovation will keep oil and gas flowing, he espouses the view that there are only so many hydrocarbons in the ground and we’re running through them quickly. Beyond Oil: The View From Hubbert’s Peak is one of several new books to tackle this topic, but Deffeyes does it from the no-nonsense perspective of a trained scientist.

…Although Deffeyes’ message in both books is serious, his tone tends toward the folksy and engaging. He delights in explaining how technical processes work and materials are formed, and he does it in an accessible way; you get the sense he’s the guy everyone in the office calls for help when their computer screens freeze up. Some readers will remember Deffeyes as the geologist who accompanied John McPhee across the United States for McPhee’s Basin and Range, explaining plate tectonics along the way.
(7 June 2005)
The book reviewed is Beyond Oil by Kenneth Deffeyes, Hill & Wang, 202 pgs., 2005.

Over a Barrel: What happens when the cheap oil runs out
Jim Motavalli and Kai Wu, E/The Environmental Magazine
We need to start thinking about the consequences of vastly higher energy prices, because we’re reaching the peak of oil production, when the output of the world’s wells will start to lag behind rising international demand. When that happens, prices will soar far beyond the minor shocks we’re experiencing today.

…Given that no easy energy solution is likely to maintain the Western world in the style to which we’ve become accustomed, we may find ourselves confronting old questions dismissed or forgotten in the flood of material wealth: Why are we here? How shall we live? We may have to take lessons from the developing world, where living on a tight energy budget has always been a necessity. Perhaps the world a century from now will see thousands of answers in the form of local and far more self-sufficient communities, leading simpler, but not lesser, lives.
(May/June 2005)
Co-author Montavalli is editor of E/The Environmental Magazine.

New peak oil book by McKillop and Newman
(press release)
Pluto Press (publisher)
Andrew McKillop & Sheila Newman’s book on peak oil, The Final Energy Crisis, is out at last. It is a nice change to see an international range of contributors focus beyond the US scene, and not just on oil and gas, but on how long coal may last if it has to substitute for just about everything else.

The 23 essays from various authors explore the case for the imminent acceleration of fossil fuel depletion and the limits of ‘sustainability’. They outline the political background to the situation, not just among the world’s largest consumers of fossil fuel, the US and China, but also in Europe and the developing world. Considering our future economic survival, they include a detailed examination of France and Australia. Finally, they explore the extreme costs of alternatives such as nuclear power, and outline other possible lifestyles and methods.

Co-editor, Andrew McKillop, first had the idea for this book. Written by a new breed of “peak-oil economist” and a classicist, McKillop’s several essays are highly original. What would happen if the Chinese become car-dependent like Americans? Why, if Africa has so many mineral and oil riches, are Africans so poor? In “Oh Kyoto”, McKillop writes on the byzantine complexity of the remarkable Kyoto treaty. High oil prices are supposed to be bad for business, but McKillop writes that they benefit third world commodity economies and break first world stagnation cycles. This model is, of course, only valid for as long as oil remains abundant. McKillop anticipates increasingly hard times ahead in the long term, particulary the lot of young adults in 2035.

Under what circumstances might human societies continue after oil decline? Co-editor and peak-oil sociologist, Sheila Newman is one of very few women in this field and the only female author in the book. She contrasts the potential carrying capacities of France and Australia after oil, after uranium, and after coal have run down. Using historical and prehistorical data, as well as socio-political systems analysis, she takes us 130 years into the future to a much smaller, leaner, Australia, with a society that the current inhabitants would not even recognise. France’s prospects are more fertile and why this should be so is a fascinating study of the way that human societies depend on and ‘culture’ is shaped by landforms and energy systems. It would be interesting to see Newman do this for other regions of the world.
(8 June 2005)
The Final Energy Crisis, Edited by Andrew McKillop with Sheila Newman, £ 15.99 / US$ 28.95 PAPER, 2005/04, 336pp, ISBN: 0745320929 . Available from the publisher, Pluto Press, as well as Amazon.

Politics and Economics

Revealed: how oil giant influenced Bush
White House sought advice from Exxon on Kyoto stance

John Vidal, Guardian
President’s George Bush’s decision not to sign the United States up to the Kyoto global warming treaty was partly a result of pressure from ExxonMobil, the world’s most powerful oil company, and other industries, according to US State Department papers seen by the Guardian.

The documents, which emerged as Tony Blair visited the White House for discussions on climate change before next month’s G8 meeting, reinforce widely-held suspicions of how close the company is to the administration and its role in helping to formulate US policy.
(8 June 2005)

An interview with geo-green James Woolsey, former head of CIA

Amanda Griscom Little, Grist Magazine
Former Pentagon heavies are not known for their breezy candor, so it’s a rare treat to come across one who voluntarily describes himself as a tree-hugger, do-gooder, sodbuster, and cheap hawk, all rolled into one. There you have R. James “call me Jim” Woolsey, in a nutshell. Sort of.

Over the course of a dozen years, Woolsey held presidential appointments in two Republican and two Democratic administrations, including one stint as undersecretary of the Navy and another as director of the Central Intelligence Agency under President Clinton, from 1993 to 1995.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, he’s become one of the most influential advocates of energy independence, and one of the few security hawks to champion the environmental benefits of shifting away from fossil fuels. He’s argued his opinions in the pages of such prominent publications as The Wall Street Journal, and played key roles within the Energy Future Coalition and the National Commission on Energy Policy, two nonpartisan groups of experts in business, labor, the environment, and national security that are pressing for a more forward-looking energy strategy, and, most recently, trying to convince senators to add stronger fuel-economy and renewable-energy provisions to the fossil-fuel-friendly energy bill.
(7 June 2005)

Taking On LNG: Subsidized Energy and Free Markets

Tom Politeo,
When it comes to the free market and government intrusion, the big energy companies have made an art of having their cake and eating it too.

When government regulations interfere with extraction, transport, refining and distribution operations or arrangements, they all complain: big government is getting in the way of the market. Regulations are anti-business, anti-progress, bad for the economy and so on. They create too much of a cost burden on the companies.

Yet, these same companies line up with their hats out to cash in on energy exploration grants, overseas tax credits, and various other mechanisms that help subsidize the price of oil. At the same time, they have no problem in passing on the health, property, crop, forestry and environmental damage caused by use of their products.
(7 June 2005)

Bolivia gas war: trying to reverse the tide

Nick Buxton, Znet
…The “gas war” as it is known is the fight back against the exclusion of the majority Bolivians from its countries wealth.

Bolivia is the poorest country in South America with two-thirds of its population living under the poverty line. But as nearly all Bolivians will tell you, its landlocked country, which straddles the Andean peaks and the Amazonian jungle, is immensely wealthy in natural resources. In oil and gas alone, it controls the second largest reserves in Latin America.

The seeds for the current conflict were sown in 1990 when the IMF and other donor governments persuaded the Bolivian government to privatize its gas and oil sector and lower taxes, promising increased income as a result of additional foreign investment.
(7 June 2005)
Background on the Bolivian turmoil, from a leftist perspective.
For ongoing coverage, see Narco News and Narcosphere.
For an on-the-ground perspective, see Bolivia: The day that Mesa resigned… (also at Znet).
Guardian: Mass protests in Bolivia turn violent
Guardian: Who wants what – and why [in Bolivia]
Green Left Weekly: Bolivia on the brink

none today


Our oil-laden food chain

Ianqui, The Oil Drum
I alluded to this in my previous post, but I want to reiterate that it takes a lot of fossil fuel to produce the food that we eat every day. When I stop to think about this, I get this image of gasoline being poured on my food. Pictured that way, the idea that we use a lot of oil on food is easy to dismiss, but the truth is that there are myriad ways that oil makes it into the food chain. And this is something we must be aware of, since once there are oil shortages, it’s not just going to be lines at the pump–there might also be lines at the grocery stores.
(7 June 2005)

Solutions and Sustainability

Retaining L&C train is a practical goal

Editorial, Daily Astorian (Oregon)
Many localities around the nation are attempting to do what President George Bush will not – develop effective strategies for dealing with global warming. Astoria can make a big statement by keeping the Lewis and Clark Explorer train in business.
(6 June 2005)

Fish poop could spread drilling wealth
Brackish water from wells could become useful

Becky Bohrer, Associated Press via MSNBC
SHERIDAN, Wyo. – Ever since developers learned how to tap coal seams in the Powder River Basin for natural gas, they’ve struggled with what to do with the brackish groundwater that comes out first. A fish may be the answer.

Water is being pumped from coal-bed methane wells in rural, northern Wyoming to John Woiwode’s tilapia farm in an area where cattle roam. About 1,300 of the small, pink fish now delight in the water — flipping, flopping and pooping in it.

It’s the squiggles of poop that interest researchers like Woiwode, and whether that waste could help make the water into a more usable asset instead of a pollutant.

“The implications are profound,” said Woiwode, who’s spent the past several years studying the role fish could play in alternate uses for methane waste water. “If there’s a potential to get this whole discharge issue shifted from being an industrial pollutant to an agricultural application, this is very significant.”
(6 June 2005)
As the permaculture people say, “Waste equals food.”