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Peak Oil

Professor of geophysics speaks on Peak Oil
Global Public Media
Dave Room speaks with Amos Nur, Professor of Geophysics at Stanford University about his perspective on Global Oil Peak, the implications exponential growth in a finite world, the lack of an incentives to conserve in free marked economies, and M. King Hubbert’s contributions to the field of Geophysics
(12 June 2005)
Low-key interview from a respected scientist. On Dr. Nur’s homepage, he has posted his essay, Oil Future and War Now: A Grim Earth Sciences’ Point of View (1.4 MB PDF, see below).

Oil Future and War Now: A Grim Earth Sciences’ Point of View
(1.4 MB PDF)
Dr. Amos Nur, Professor of Geophysics, Stanford University
Worldwide per-capita oil consumption is closely correlated with the standard of living. In developing nations like China and India increasing prosperity therefore requires increased per-capita oil consumption. However, oil is a finite resource whose production globally is about to begin to decline irreversibly. Consequently the growing demand for oil is leading to a growing global conflict in which the Gulf War, the 9/11 attack, and the war in Iraq are just the first three skirmishes. These skirmishes pale in comparison with the looming potential conflict over oil with China.
(30 Nov 2004)
See interview above.

Twilight in the Desert

“Heading out,” The Oil Drum
…And that is, in the end, the only quibble that I have about this book [ Twilight in the Desert by Matthew Simmons]. It does not explain in sufficient detail what the results of the effort mean to the rest of the world. We are at a time when the Russian production levels of oil are stalling before beginning to drop again, when the countries of South America are seeing their major fields go into decline; where China, India, Europe and the United States are searching for new reserves to meet their growing needs, and where the North Sea and North Slope oil production sink further and further into depletion.

Forget the increasingly irrelevant arguments about the proper mathematical descriptions for the true shape of Hubbert’s Peak, the blunt truth, regardless, is that the world needs to find supplies for additional volumes of oil. And in this time of growing need, the world has, in their still fleeting awareness of the problem, increasingly assumed that the OPEC countries could save our global oil-based economy. More particularly that Saudi Arabia would play the hero that it has before, and ride to the rescue by providing new quantities of oil to meet our growing demand.

…Matt Simmons explains why it is going to be very difficult, if it is possible, to make the projected numbers. It is a detailed argument and has to be read with some diligence to be fully understood. But when finished, you will understand the concerns that he has raised, largely alone, that question the reassurances that come, with some frequency, from Riyadh.
(12 June 2005)
Yet another good post from The Oil Drum, which has set a standard for readability and depth of content for PO blogs. (It helps that The Oil Drum is a team effort, with at least two professors!) -BA

Peak Oil: beyond optimism and pessimism

Jim Bliss
Bliss recapitulates recent Peak Oil events, then takes a personal tack…
…My attempts to publicise the dangers of a global peak in oil production stretch all the way back to my first letters to politicians on the subject in early 1997. In the eight years since then, my opinions on the implications of oil peaking have remained largely unchanged, yet have gone from being lunatic fringe stuff to being the mainstream view. What has not changed, however, is the hostility with which those views are met by a significant majority of people.

Statistically speaking, I am due to live another 40 years. During that time, I will witness the complete collapse of free-market capitalism. The project of globalisation will fail, and the consumer culture within which recent generations have been raised will end. A massive reduction in living standards, unlike any other readjustment in history, will be experienced by 99% of us living in the industrialised world. A hundred thousand things that we all take for granted today will have ceased to exist by the time I reach my allotted lifespan. This will happen. And it is perhaps unsurprising that this pronouncement was not joyously embraced by the people I informed of it.

…However, by the end of 1998 the full implications of peak oil finally began to sink in. My inability to create a biomass model capable of being scaled up provided me with one of my many Road to Damascus moments and I quit the grindstone to be depressed for a while.

…But as I slowly began to recover from depression, I gained a deeper understanding of the psychological issues surrounding the peak oil problem and exactly why people are so hostile to taking it seriously. And I realised that the facts of the problem speak for themselves; that my depression had been at least partly due to my coming to terms with those facts; and that the process of coming to terms is precisely the painful and unpleasant experience that people are rejecting when they react with hostility to my “pessimism”.

And with the lifting of my depression, I also realised, finally, that I’m not a pessimist. I was reading an essay of George Orwell’s written just prior to the outbreak of World War Two. In the essay he recommended the immediate nationalisation of all industry to swiftly prepare for a war against fascism. The merits of his nationalisation proposal aren’t what’s important here, but the fact that he was trying to convince society that an urgent collective solution was required to a very serious problem. Orwell saw fascism rising (as did many of course) but was dismayed to find himself dismissed as a pessimist and a communist by those who were convinced of “peace in our time”.

Pessimism and optimism are not natural opposites. Rather they are both manifestations of a desire to deny reality.
Jim Bliss is a philosopher, writer and (currently non-practising) engineer. He blogs at ‘Where There Were No Doors’ and acts as a freelance consultant on all manner of stuff. He tries to be a realist, however unpopular that makes him.
(8 June 2005)
Jim Bliss’s experiences remind us not forget the psychological component of Peak Oil awareness: denial, hostility, depression, acting out…

Burning Over Oil – Peak Oil and Climate Change

Julian Gibson,
Civilisation as we know it may be coming to an end very soon.

This is the conclusion of some of the most respected geologists, physicists and investment bankers. As the world is reaching “peak oil”, and reserves begin to dwindle, a global scrabble for what’s left of this precious ‘black gold’ is on. It’s possible that the coming decades could be the most critical in human history.
(13 June 2005)
Published by the libcom group, “a small collective of libertarian communists based in and around London.”


Electrifying natural gas rise
Mini power plants devour supplies, spur wild swings in price

Jon Chavez, Toledo Blade
For five years, there has been a giant sucking sound in the natural gas industry in the United States.

Prices for the fuel were low until 1999, averaging $2 to $3 for a million BTUs. Since then, the price has climbed to $7. After the increase, many Toledoans’ heating bills soared, often to several hundred dollars for a particularly cold month.

What changed?

New technology paved the way for cleaner, cheaper to build, and more efficient electricity generating plants that run on natural gas. To meet the nation’s hunger for power, hundreds of the mini-power plants were constructed.

…But the plants, which operate just two months a year, are devouring the nation’s annual natural gas supplies. Each one consumes about 1.6 billion BTUs an hour, enough to fuel 16,000 typical home furnaces.

Gobbling up a fifth of the yearly inventories, the plants are meeting electricity demand but are keeping the natural gas supply line restricted and have prompted wild price swings in the heating fuel.

Those swings have meant higher residential natural gas prices. And the situation seems unlikely to change for five to 10 years.
(12 June 2005)
What is this with Ohio? Last year tiny Yellow Springs put on the first Peak Oil conference. Recently, the Cleveland Plain Dealer started a courageous series on Peak Oil. And now the Toledo Blade gives us original journalism (not a wire service article) on Peak Natural Gas. NY Times watch out, Ohio is on the rise again! (Ohio – the Midwest in general – was perhaps the most progressive and culturally advanced section of the country during the 19th century.) -BA

Poor nations to get oil-price cushion

Gary Duncan, Times (UK)
A FUND to help to cushion poor countries against the impact of soaring prices for oil and other commodities is to be set up under an agreement by finance ministers from the Group of Seven leading economies and Russia, the G8, after weekend talks in London.

The establishment of the fund, aimed at easing pressure on developing countries and to be run by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, comes as oil prices are once again on the rise and at levels above $50 a barrel.
(13 June 2005)

Oil likely to cross $60, says Barclays

Financial Express (India)
Crude oil may exceed $60 a barrel this year as demand rises in China and the US and hurricanes threaten to reduce Gulf of Mexico production, according to Barclays Capital.

Also, slowing growth in Russian oil output this year will lead to an outright decline in 2006 from the country, further increasing concern about supply, said Barclays analysts Paul Horsnell and Kevin Norrish in an e-mailed report. A drop would mark the first in seven years in Russia, second only to Saudi Arabia in world oil production.
(13 June 2005)

The nuclear power option – expensive, ineffective and unnecessary

Stuart White, Sydney Morning Herald. (opinion)
There are more than two choices in the debate on how to meet future energy needs
Nuclear power is not the way to achieve the significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that will be required to pass on a stable climate to future generations – it’s not effective, it’s not cheap and it’s not necessary.

First, nuclear power is not, as suggested, such a great performer in terms of greenhouse gas reduction. This is mainly because of the significant energy requirements for mining, milling and, particularly, enrichment of the uranium for the fuel rods. These energy inputs are highly dependent on the concentration, or grade, of the original ore. Even with high-grade ores, it takes seven to 10 years to “pay back” the energy used in the construction and fuelling of a typical reactor; with the lower-grade ores that would need to be accessed if nuclear power was expanded, the net emissions would be greater than for a gas power station.

Second, if there was such a large-scale deployment of nuclear power, the only means by which it could become sustainable in the long term is through the use of breeder reactors, which create their own fuel in the form of plutonium. These reactors have never shown their ability to generate sufficient new fuel. Even if breeders could operate as intended, this would mean that plutonium, a highly hazardous radioactive material, would be transported in increasing quantities around the globe. The potential diversion of even a small fraction of this material would significantly increase the threat of nuclear terrorism.

Third, nuclear power is one of the most expensive ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, despite massive historical government support for the industry globally. The same level of support has not been available for energy efficiency and renewable energy. In countries such as the US and Britain, where it has had recent relative exposure to competition, the nuclear power industry has been in the economic doldrums for the past 20 years.
Professor Stuart White is the director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology, Sydney.
(13 June 2005)
Thanks to Big Gav of Peak Energy.

Politics and Economics
None today.


The debate’s over: Globe is warming

Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
Don’t look now, but the ground has shifted on global warming. After decades of debate over whether the planet is heating and, if so, whose fault it is, divergent groups are joining hands with little fanfare to deal with a problem they say people can no longer avoid.

General Electric is the latest big corporate convert; politicians at the state and national level are looking for solutions; and religious groups are taking philosophical and financial stands to slow the progression of climate change.

They agree that the problem is real. A recent study led by James Hansen of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies confirms that, because of carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases, Earth is trapping more energy from the sun than it is releasing back into space.
(12 June 2005)

Senate Moving Toward Adding Climate Provisions to Energy Bill

H. Josef Hebert, Associated Press
WASHINGTON – Despite opposition from the White House, a growing number of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate want to address global warming, including limits on heat-trapping emissions, as part of the country’s broad energy policy.

The Senate is schedule to take up energy legislation this week and hopes to finish it this month. Whether to include a measure on climate change will be sharply debated.

The House rebuffed any attempt to address global warming when it passed its energy bill in April. If the Senate moves ahead with a climate provision it would create yet another major confrontation when the two chambers try to reconcile their differences and fashion a final bill.

President Bush has called on Congress to end more than four years of haggling over energy policy and send him a bill by August. The White House strongly opposes any mandatory limits on greenhouse emissions — such as carbon from burning fossil fuels — that many scientists believe are causing the earth of become warmer.
(13 June 2005)

Solutions and Sustainability

Ethanol’s Stock as a Fuel Source Is Rising

Matthew L. Wald, NY Times
Oil is now so expensive that when it is blended with ethanol, a gasoline additive, to make high-octane fuel, the price of the blend is now often lower than that of regular gasoline.

As a result, some service stations, particularly those in the corn belt states that produce ethanol, are selling gasoline with ethanol for 7 cents to 10 cents less per gallon than regular gas.

Some analysts said the trend demonstrated ethanol’s potential as a fuel source, though others said it was simply a matter of supply and demand and timing.

The pricing phenomenon is limited to regions where the gasoline additive is produced, because the cost to ship ethanol – which must be sent by highway or rail tanker instead of through petroleum pipelines, where it has the potential to be contaminated – is high.
(12 June 2005)

Corn lobby wins again
California air quality suffers

Editorial, Sacramento Bee
In the face-off between California and Corn Belt states over ethanol, California lost again this month. Federal officials concede that the corn-based fuel additive can increase smog and soot pollution from vehicles. But in a ruling shocking in its disregard for public health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency refused for a second time to scrap the rule requiring California to blend ethanol in its gasoline.

Wintertime use of ethanol helps to reduce carbon monoxide pollution. In summer, however, ethanol in gasoline increases NOx and hydrocarbon emissions, major components of toxic smog that aggravates asthma and other respiratory diseases and can lead to premature death. It also increases the formation of tiny soot particles that can lodge deep in lungs.

California wanted a waiver from the EPA so that gasoline sold in the state would not have to contain ethanol during the summer.

The EPA conceded that California air quality officials are right about ethanol’s polluting effect in summer. Nonetheless, …the EPA “would deny the waiver.” Why? “This reduction in the use of ethanol would undermine the potential benefits vis a vis energy security and support for rural and agricultural economy that Congress expected” from its ethanol rule.

In other words, to the EPA regulators, the economy of the farm belt states matters more than the lungs of California residents.
(11 June 2005)

Firms saving electricity – and cash

Steve Raabe, Denver Post via Eugene Register-Guard
FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Every day is casual-dress day at New Belgium Brewing Co., where employees with titles such as “vibe writer” and “sustainability goddess” are encouraged to ride bicycles to work.

Yet behind the Fort Collins brewery’s neo-hippie veneer is a sophisticated and aggressive campaign to save energy and supplement the profits from selling beer.

With concepts as simple as skylights and shady eaves and as advanced as electricity generation from brewing waste, New Belgium uses 40 percent less energy per barrel than the average American brewer.
(12 June 2005)

Local, organic Jackie Thau is picky about the origin of products and the affect on others

Portland Oregonian
Jackie Thau prowls the produce aisles. She’s not checking bananas for bruises or picking the perfectly ripe avocado.

Thau weighs geography along with her grapes, selecting fruits and veggies based on how close to home they were grown. Studying signs at New Seasons Market in Sellwood, Thau picks red dandelion greens from Springhill Farm in Albany over red bell peppers from Canada.

Thau is among an emerging category of shoppers willing to pay a little extra for what they think are gourmet, higher quality or more healthful goods — reaching, for instance, for pesticide-free apples at premium prices.

Shoppers like Thau also wield their purchasing power to make the world a better place. Some act on political or philosophical leanings as they pick up vegetarian-fed poultry. Others apply economic reasoning, choosing locally owned grocers and local products.
Sunday, June 12, 2005
(12 June 2005)

Support grows for Eugene man who admits torching trucks

Alice Tallmadge, Portland Oregonian
EUGENE — Jeff Luers’ supporters call him a political prisoner being punished for his beliefs. Prosecutors call him a terrorist. The state considers him a member of an anarchist cell.

He considers himself a teacher.

Five years since he began serving a 23-year sentence for torching three trucks at a Eugene car dealership, the man nicknamed “Free,” now 26, sits in his cell at the Oregon State Penitentiary, penning letters to supporters and using his cause celebre case to preach against environmental degradation.
“I think I’ve been more effective while in prison,” Luers said in a telephone interview last week. “People are more inclined to listen to what I have to say.”

He admits setting the early morning fire in June 2000 that destroyed a Silverado half-ton pickup and damaged two other trucks, saying he was targeting one of the main causes of global warming: gas-guzzling SUVs.

He has appealed the length of his sentence, arguing that the punishment far exceeds the crime, especially when compared with other people convicted of arson.

Supporters in 24 cities around the country and overseas are holding events this weekend to raise money for his defense fund. Gatherings are taking place in Eugene, Olympia, Sacramento, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Cincinnati and Portland, Maine. Events are also lined up in London, Moscow and Melbourne, Australia.
(12 June 2005)

The British idea of what a house should be is a disaster

Germaine Greer, The Guardian
This weekend’s Grand Designs Live exhibition at Excel showed us that, after all the hype and hustle, though there is a little new and more not so new technology, there is no new thinking about British domestic architecture.

…Baron Haussmann obviously believed that apartments could be just as much homes as houses, and the result is a beautiful city. Palace is just another name for an apartment block, as Elizabeth II and every Italian have always known. Stacking dwellings on top of each other is the best way of reducing the built footprint; apartment blocks may stand in properly managed common land that provides habitat for the full range of species. They require less footpath, less hardstand; people who live in them in New York or Hong Kong can more easily do without cars.

But this is not what a Briton means by an ideal home. The ideal home is a fantasy environment for a fantasy family that, if it ever comes into being, will hang together for less than 20 years. By far the highest proportion of British people now live in single-occupancy units, but there is no new thinking about how to combine them for maximum benefit to environment or inhabitants.

…Observers of a future age will wonder why, as the British family shrank, the British home grew and grew, until it was catastrophically enormous. Never had so few people required so much illuminated, climate-controlled and upholstered space to knock about in.

…When the government announces that hundreds of thousands of new homes are to be built, we all know that they will be built in suburban-style developments, bungaloid or semi-detached, all facing streets full of parked cars. To suggest that the houses stand in common land, that they live within the type of natural habitat that existed before the houses were built, that the residents park their cars at the perimeter or keep no cars at all and use buses instead, is to cry for the moon. The very planning regulations are against any such innovations. To wander around the Grand Designs exhibition was to realise that, despite Kevin McCloud and despite individuals building houses out of straw or wooden Meccano from Finland, the British house is still an environmental disaster.
(13 June 2005)
Like Jim Kunstler, Germaine Greer is no fan of suburbia.

Re-earthing the cities

Margaret RainbowWeb
Permaculture activist and eco-hermit, now in Australia. Her huge website is incredible: eccentric, creative, with a wide variety of writings and ideas. For example: how-to articles, guinea pigs, memories from World War II England, spritual writings, etc. -BA
(June 2005)

Cyclists flesh out their stand against cars – and clothes

Nick Martin, Seattle Times
There wasn’t quite the sea of flesh tones, body paint and bicycles yesterday at Gasworks Park [Seattle, Washington] some had expected.

In fact, there looked to be about twice as many photographers and spectators as naked bicyclists at the park, the starting point for the Seattle contribution to yesterday’s World Naked Bike Ride.

Ride organizers in London told The Associated Press that similar events were planned around the globe in a number of countries, including Australia, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Latvia and Israel.

It was the second time in as many years that dozens of area residents geared up and stripped down for a ride meant to be as much a protest of America’s oil dependence as it was a monumental attempt at overcoming bashfulness.
(12 June 2005)