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Peak Oil

‘Peak oil’ enters mainstream debate

Adam Porter, BBC
Is global oil production reaching a peak? A few years ago only a handful of geologists and academics were considering such a possibility. But now it appears even governments are taking a serious look at the subject.

The question is occupying more and more minds around the world. It could happen soon. A French government report on the global oil industry forecasts a possible peak in world production as early as 2013. The report ‘The Oil Industry 2004’ takes a long look at future production and supply issues.
(10 June 2005)
See next item for more on the French report.

French government discovers Peak Oil
(in FRENCH. PDF – 2.6MB)
L’industrie pétrolière en 2004, French government
…Finalement, au-delà de 2013, la satisfaction des approvisionnements pétroliers dépendra des réserves qui seront découvertes entre 2005 et 2030 ; ainsi pour un rythme annuel de découverte de 20 Gb équivalent à la consommation mondiale actuelle et un taux de croissance de 2 % l’an de la consommation mondiale, la production maximale (ou «Peak Oil ») serait atteinte en 2023 avec, à cette date, une production de 113 Mb/j qui irait ensuite en déclinant comme l’illustre le graphique cidessous
(10 May 2005)
See also press release (in French): “Réalisé chaque année par la Direction des Ressources Energétiques et Minérales de la DGEMP, ce rapport dresse le bilan de la situation pétrolière en France, depuis l’exploration jusqu’à la distribution.”

In a peakoil forum, khebab writes:

Ok, it’s a good and thorough report that proves that the French government is taking the PO issue seriously. However, I find this report is very optimistic and put the PO date at least in 2012 in the worst case scenario (no new discoveries and demand growth of 3% per year…

They believe we can discover 20Gb of new reserves each year until 2030 wich puts the peak in 2023 at 113Mbd. The investment required is estimated to be about 250 G$ each year!

Kunstler radio interview

Ianqui, The Oil Drum
Thanks to Past Peak for linking to this Kunstler radio interview. He basically summarizes The Long Emergency for us, but it’s still kind of interesting to hear it in his voice. Sometimes he gets pretty snarky in his books, so I was kind of surprised to hear how calm and reasonable he sounds. Here’s a rundown of some of the topics he touches on:

  • Food production: Right now food travels long distances. It’s going to have to become much more local.

  • Suburbia: People regularly commute, and the school busing system is unsustainable.
  • Economic growth: Not going to happen with fuel shortages. The government isn’t telling us about Peak Oil because it would immediately damage the economy.
  • Sustainable cities: The most successful places will be the smaller cities that don’t have unreasonable energy demands, and that are near local agriculture.
  • Agriculture: Will necessarily involve a lot more human labor (and Kunstler hints at a return to share-cropping). He doesn’t think we’ll convert strip malls to agriculture; he thinks they’ll be the “ruins of our time”.
  • Alternative energies: Discusses why coal, natural gas, solar and wind power can’t combine to replace oil. (This is addressed at length in the book.)
  • Political instability: The “formerly middle class” will be puzzled about and angry at their loss of entitlement. This will lead to interesting political shenanigans.
  • Why the populace is uninformed: Poor leadership and a lot of wishful thinking about alternative fuels. We believe that this is just one more thing that we’ll overcome with technology. Besides, we’re distracted by the easy recreation afforded by cheap oil.
  • Does Kunstler hold out hope? Yes. Humans are resourceful, and the people who come out of this will be more in touch with the meaningful aspects of human life, namely, better community.

(10 June 2005)
Yet ANOTHER Kunstler interview (does the man ever sleep?) at June 4 Ring Of Fire on AirAmerica.

Oilcast #8: IEA say `save electricity`. Fast.

Dani Gomez,
“Saving Electricity in a Hurry’ is the new report released this week by the International Energy Agency. In this Oilcast Dani Gomez comments on some of the measures they propose. How to “deal with temporary shortfalls in electricity supplies” while watching how countries like Japan are already using mass media to raise awareness among their population. Also, we look at the situation in Bolivia. A poor country with huge hydrocarbon reserves. As well as this we look at the UK’s 17% annual decline in oil output, Chevron and Unocal’s merger and have a chuckle with all the energy related weblogs that have recently appeared.
(10 June 2005)
Oilcast is “energy news audio on demand” — commentary in MP3 format.


Global electricity grids strained

Adam Porter, BBC
Electricity supply in developed countries is straining to cope with demand, an International Energy Agency (IEA) report suggests. In a report called ‘Saving Electricity In A Hurry’, the agency predicts there will be outages like those experienced in the United States, Japan and Canada.

Several developed countries have experienced power shortages and more are likely to occur, it says. A mix of factors lead to power cuts but pre-planning rarely happens, it adds.
(9 June 2005)

U.S. petroleum reserve nearly full —
Energy security at all-time high in case of oil shortage

Associated Press via Winston-Salem Journal
…The milestone is important because it gives the country a larger energy security blanket than ever to call upon if a supply shortage were to occur. Also, the stockpiling of 700 million barrels of oil, which is scheduled for completion by the end of August, could bring some relief to the world energy market, analysts say. When the Energy Department effectively tops off its reserve, which is stored in underground salt caverns on the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana, about 75,000 barrels of oil a day will become available for commercial purposes.
(8 June 2005)

China to have strategic oil reserve soon

Felicia Loo, Reuters
SINGAPORE (Reuters) – China is on track to complete building its first strategic oil reserve storage tanks by August, but Beijing has not indicated when it may start filling them in the face of high oil prices, an industry official said on Friday.

The world’s second-largest oil consumer after the United States will finish the crude oil tank farm in Zhenhai, located in the port city of Ningbo in the booming east coast province of Zhejiang, on schedule with plans announced last year, he said.

The 5.2 million-cubic-meter (33 million-barrel) facility will hold about one-third of China’s initial planned emergency reserves, the foundation of state efforts to bolster energy security as consumption soars and domestic output plateaued.
(10 June 2005)

India: Enhancing Energy Security

Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas, India (press release)
…The Government has adopted multi-pronged strategies to enhance the energy security of the country. On the domestic front, these steps include intensive exploration for oil and gas through the New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP); exploration by National Oil Companies, namely, ONGC and OIL, in their nomination blocks; increasing recovery of oil and gas from existing major producing fields by enhanced oil recovery (EOR) / improved oil recovery (IOR) techniques; exploring for alternative sources of hydrocarbons such as Coal Bed Methane (CBM), gas hydrates and underground coal gasification (UCG); and creating strategic petroleum reserves.

On the external front, the thrust areas conclude acquisition of equity oil abroad and augmentation of natural gas supply in the country through import of LNG and transnational gas pipelines.
(15 May 2005)

Crude from Caspian likely to come [to India] via Azerbaijan

Anupama, Airy, Financial Express (India)
Azerbaijan may soon become an important energy link for India in bringing crude oil and gas from the Caspian Sea region. India, which imported 95.9 million tonne crude and a little over 5 million tonne per annum of LNG during 2004-05, has so far not been able to source any crude oil or gas from the Caspian region due to absence of links with the major exporting ports there.

Located about 1,600 km south of Moscow, the Caspian Sea region has emerged as a focal point for untapped oil and natural gas resources.

In order to reduce its dependence on crude oil from the Gulf region and meet its quest for energy, petroleum minister, Mani Shankar Aiyar on Thursday proposed accessing crude oil from the Central Asia and Caspian region using an Israeli pipeline.
(10 June 2005)

Politics and Economics

A seismic upheaval among Latin America’s Indians
The crisis in Bolivia has put the continent’s entire balance of power in question

Richard Gott, The Guardian
…Only one road connects La Paz with the outside world, and it has been controlled since the middle of May by the irate Indians of El Alto. Every capital city in Latin America is much the same: a tiny enclave of unbelievable privilege surrounded by a gigantic swamp of poverty.

…The chief emerging protagonist in the next stage of Bolivia’s drama is Evo Morales, an Aymara Indian from the high plateau who became the organiser of the coca growers in the Chapare, in the headwaters of the Amazon. From this base of desperate landless peasants and politicised former tin miners, he has become a national figure, allying the socialist rhetoric of the traditional Bolivian left with the fresh language of the indigenous population, now mobilised and angry.

…If Morales eventually emerges as Bolivia’s elected president, the entire relation of forces in the countries of the Andes will be changed, since comparable indigenous movements in neighbouring countries are also demanding their proper share of power. Yet there have been many false dawns. Observing events in Bolivia, an experienced Brazilian has suggested, is like “watching the train of history pass by on many occasions without the Indians ever securing a ticket to ride”. Not since the end of the 18th century has such a seismic upheaval occurred among the continent’s indigenous peoples. This time things may be different.
(11 June 2005)
Best summary I’ve seen of the Bolivia gas war, and what it signifies. -BA

Recovering Bolivia’s oil and gas

Oscar Olivera, Counterpunch
Petroleum and natural gas are riches found in our territory; they represent national wealth. The presence of oil and gas provides an objective condition that can permit the expansion of the national economy and the raising of the quality of life and work using our own Bolivian resources. Bolivia possesses a great wealth of petroleum and natural gas, but these resources do not currently benefit the Bolivian people. Despite the current situation, these deposits are important for the future economic viability of Bolivia.
(10 June 2005)
From a talk given in 2000 and a book published in 2004.

Against CAFTA

toni solo, Znet
…In Nicaragua, Bolaños waited till the Mother’s Day holiday to declare an economic state of emergency so as to bypass the country’s legislature and force through an 11% price rise in electricity prices.

…Something all these countries share is an apparent paralysis in facing up to the growing energy crisis. No one seems to have worked out what much higher energy prices should imply in terms of sensible public economic policy. Nicaragua’s case is indicative of the political, economic and social disruption in store following strict obedience to repeated visits over the years from IMF heavies

When electricity was privatized in the late 1990s, Nicaragua followed much the same model as was used in the UK during the 1980s. Generation was separated from distribution and a regulatory body was set up to monitor the rules of the game. A 30 year distribution deal was put out for contract and the killing was made by Spanish multinational Union Fenosa in 2000. Generation, (some hydro-electric, some geo-thermal but around 80% diesel fuelled) was left to five mostly foreign owned companies.

Now Union Fenosa owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to the generating companies and alleges it can’t pay up unless it is permitted to raise prices by nearly twelve per cent. So Union Fenosa, with the total monopoly on electricity distribution and despite raising prices dramatically since the year 2000, is saying straight out that it can’t cut it in the Nicaraguan energy market. Who was it forced Nicaragua to privatize its electricity industry? Step forward, Spats and Scarface from the International Monetary Fund.

If Nicaragua and its neighbours are on the rack now with oil prices at current levels, how will their economies cope in a year or two years’ time as prices trend persistently upwards?
(7 June 2005)
Despite the tub-thumping leftism (phrases like “the gangster system of international corporate welfare economics”), this analysis correctly points out the link between higher energy prices, social instability and populist rebellion. -BA

Nicaragua and Energy Prices

Roland Watson, New Era Investor
I mentioned at the end of my “Let’s Make Prosperity History” blog to watch how poor countries such as Nicaragua reacted to a situation similar to a post-peak-oil scenario when energy prices were hiked. Well, prices were hiked there last week and the people have given their initial reaction with mass protests

…Note first the involvement of the Trade Unions in this protest. Trade Unionism has been on a downward slide in the the Western nations as oil fuelled prosperity soothes the relationship between workers and bosses. Moreover the traditional, union-loving, low-income jobs have been cheaply transported to the Far East. It is a safe prediction that Trade Unionism will make a comeback on the other side of Hubbert’s Global Peak as more people shift back into lower waged jobs.
(9 June 2005)
A libertarian view which sees the same link between expensive energy and a populist response, as the previous article. Watson (who has been writing regularly on PO and energy issues) describes his point of view:

I would say I am libertarian in economics (e.g. Rothbard, Mises, Hayek) but conservative in ethics. So, though I could defend free market capitalism as the most efficient form of wealth creation, my dim view of unbridled human nature necessitates the checks and balances of other agencies such as governmental enforcement of contracts and some other third agency such as the church or belief system so that the State doesn’t begin to think it is God walking on the Earth (to quote Nietzsche).

The trick is deciding the optimal balance point between all three. After all, leaving the pro-Peak Oil side of the debate to one class of political/economic thinking is rather stifling.


Beyond Korean Barbecue

John Feffer, AlterNet
Though North Korea’s thriving new restaurant scene may seem like trivial news, this new trend is actually a key economic and social indicator of change.

North Korea has 1) boasted of having nuclear weapons; 2) threatened to turn its neighbors into a “sea of fire”; 3) traded in illegal drugs and counterfeit currency; or 4) been enjoying a gourmet revival.

If you snorted at the last choice, think again.

Recent visitors to the “hermit kingdom” report that good food is no longer limited to government functions or the occasional hotel eatery. A new raft of restaurants — from Korean barbecue to fast-food hamburgers — cater to foreigners and locals alike.

“Everybody is now interested in making money, and restaurants are one way of doing so,” says Kathi Zellweger of the Catholic aid organization, Caritas.

…Whatever you might think of North Korea, it barely qualifies as “communist” any longer. The North Korean government passed a joint venture law in 1984, established its first free trade zone in 1991, and deleted references to Marxism-Leninism from its constitution in 1992. The 2002 economic “adjustment” officially put profit at the center of economic activity. In 2003, the state began to shift to a “family-run farm system” that follows roughly the Chinese reforms of the late 1970s. On many farms, families are now responsible for what to plant and where to sell. The transfer of rights to land and property is reportedly just around the corner. Centralized planning still exists, but the center no longer has the money, the knowledge, or the absolute authority to control what happens on the ground.

Private markets — once outlawed — are now encouraged. The Tongil Market in the middle of Pyongyang is a large space where vendors sell everything from Chinese electronics to hothouse tomatoes.
(10 June 2005)
Some Peak Oilers have been watching North Korea as one example of what to expect after cheap petroleum is no longer available for agriculture (Cuba is another example). This article seems to bust most of our stereotypes about North Korea. -BA

New options sought for carbon dioxide

David R. Baker, SF Chronicle
…A coalition of Western states and businesses is studying ways to inject carbon dioxide deep underground, in depleted natural gas fields and saltwater pockets buried under thousands of feet of rock.

…The effort goes by the awkward name of carbon sequestration, and its backers view it as a necessity in a world addicted to fossil fuels. Future power plants, they hope, will strip carbon dioxide out of their exhaust and inject the gas underground.

“We very definitely need to get into geologic storage,” said David Hawkins, director of the National Resources Defense Council’s climate center. “We should have been doing this 10 years ago.” Sequestration has its limits. The technology needed to remove carbon dioxide from smokestacks isn’t cheap. There also isn’t a practical way to capture carbon dioxide from cars.

Opponents complain that the government’s interest in sequestration is a dodge, a way to avoid committing to cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Those working in the field, however, consider it one of several tools the United States and the world may need to slow the steady buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

“There’s energy efficiency, renewable energy, nuclear power — and all of those will play into how we as a society deal with carbon dioxide,” said Sally Benson, of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who will head the California field tests.
(10 June 2005)

Big Business Urges Urgent G8 Global Warming Action

Reuters via Planet Ark
LONDON – Big business added its voice on Thursday to a growing crescendo of calls on the governments of the world’s richest nations to take urgent action to curb potentially catastrophic global warming.

The call follows a similar appeal from the world’s top scientists and comes four weeks before leaders of the Group of Eight — along with China, Brazil, South Africa, India and Mexico — meet in Scotland to discuss the climate crisis.

“We share the belief that climate change poses one of the most significant challenges of the 21st century,” said moguls from multinationals including car maker Ford, airline British Airways, bank HSBC, electricity generator EdF and oil major BP.
(10 June 2005)
See also Big business urges G8 global warming action in the Independent.

Solutions and Sustainability

The rise, fall and rise of Brazil’s biofuel

Robert Plummer, BBC News
As oil prices continue to hover above the $50-a-barrel mark, amid fears that the world may soon run out of fossil fuels, carmakers and politicians alike are desperate to come up with alternative ways to power the world’s motor vehicles.

…In the mid-1980s – before any other country even thought of the idea – Brazil succeeded in mass-producing biofuel for motor vehicles: alcohol, derived from its plentiful supplies of sugar-cane. Differently-powered cars were actually in the majority on Brazil’s roads at the time, marking a major technological feat.

But the programme that had put the country so far ahead was very nearly consigned to history when oil prices slid back from high levels seen in the 1970s.
(11 June 2005)

Guilt-Free Biodiesel: a Global Perspective

John Laumer, Treehugger
TreeHuggers have shown some skepticism toward biodiesel, fed in part, we might suppose, by the anti-green spinmeisters of US media, but also by diesel’s dirty history. In a mood for a vegetarian car or truck? Redemption is here and getting better all over the world. Earlier posts in TreeHugger did a great job of pulling the facts and how-to’s together. That’s why this post is circumspect.

Diesel engines dominate in trucks world wide. And in trains. And in buses. We’ll focus this discussion on passenger cars, however, as personal biodiesel (PBD) has caught TreeHugger’s interest.
(10 June 2005)

Technology that imitates nature

The Economist
Biomimetics: Engineers are increasingly taking a leaf out of nature’s book when looking for solutions to design problems

AFTER taking his dog for a walk one day in the early 1940s, George de Mestral, a Swiss inventor, became curious about the seeds of the burdock plant that had attached themselves to his clothes and to the dog’s fur. Under a microscope, he looked closely at the hook-and-loop system that the seeds have evolved to hitchhike on passing animals and aid pollination, and he realised that the same approach could be used to join other things together. The result was Velcro: a product that was arguably more than three billion years in the making, since that is how long the natural mechanism that inspired it took to evolve.

Velcro is probably the most famous and certainly the most successful example of biological mimicry, or “biomimetics”. In fields from robotics to materials science, technologists are increasingly borrowing ideas from nature, and with good reason: nature’s designs have, by definition, stood the test of time, so it would be foolish to ignore them. Yet transplanting natural designs into man-made technologies is still a hit-or-miss affair.
(9 June 2005)

Keeping progress once you have it

Jeremy Faludi, WorldChanging
We talk a lot about changing the world for the better; but once you’re successful, how do you keep it from changing back later, when people aren’t up in arms anymore? Today’s BBC has an article telling how twenty years ago, 90% of cars made in Brazil ran on ethanol (which was also produced in Brazil). Today, it’s 0.06%. Paul Krugman’s book The Great Unraveling will tell you more than you want to know about the environmental backsliding going on in the US today. But what can you do to prevent it, or stop it once started?

Here are six ideas, only a few of which get frequent use:

  • Most traditional solutions tend to rely on imposing stricter rules and greater oversight. It’s the obvious way, but it can be expensive and bureaucratic.
  • Good public relations can be indispensable. Keep the issue present, and framed the right way, in people’s minds. We all know how the spin machine can shred the public’s perception of benefits they used to enjoy.
  • Networking progress can leverage it. Getting other “normal” parts of society to depend on a new benefit can entrench it into the normal fabric of society & economy. (For instance, in the US, cars were a useful invention, and then cities started to be designed around car ownership, now making cars extremely hard to give up.)…

(9 June 2005)

Sustainable consumption

Andy Brett, Gristmill
As usual, Joel Makower has got the good stuff. The Journal of Industrial Ecology that he points to is, in a word, fascinating. It’s full of great articles, all tied together with the theme of “sustainable consumption.”

I haven’t had time (yet) to read all of the articles, but there is one that jumps out as a real jewel, Tim Jackson’s piece, “Live Better by Consuming Less? Is There a Double Dividend in Sustainable Consumption?”

When it comes to sustainability, Jackson notes that:

Purely technological approaches fall short of addressing the crucial dimension of human choice in implementing sustainable technologies and changing unsustainable consumption patterns.

With that, Jackson is off and running. I think he’s absolutely right. We can have all the technology in the world to make living more and more efficient and low-impact. But it won’t do any good if people don’t use it.
(10 June 2005)

Why 23 Years?
Sentence for SUV arson didn’t match the crime

Chris Calef, Eugene Weekly (commentary)
Why 23 years? It’s really the only question worth asking in the case of Jeff “Free” Luers. Some people might want to ask, “Why did he do it?” but for people who’ve been paying attention to the climatologists, I think it’s pretty obvious.

Global warming is here. Peak oil is here. We’re at war in Iraq to maintain control over an oil supply that is only getting smaller. And meanwhile, the economic elite in America still love their SUVs. Some people just won’t get it until you do something that makes them pay attention, and that’s what Jeff Luers was trying to do. That’s why he did it.

But why did he get 23 years? He damaged three SUVs, causing $40,000 in damages. No one was injured or even put at risk. How did this crime result in a sentence exceeding that of most murderers? What logic could possibly motivate a judge to inflict such a sentence on a 23-year-old man with no prior felonies, no history of violence or drug abuse and no intent to achieve personal gain from his actions?
(10 June 2005)