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Peak oil - May 29

Click on the headline (link) for the full text.

Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage

Tight Oil Supplies
(big PDF)
Matthew Simmons, Simmons International
55 slides, including:

Questions We Should Have Asked:

  • Could end to sustainablie energy supply growth be nearing?
  • How soon could 'peak oil and gas' arrive?
  • How long would peak stay at a plateau?
  • How fast could supply then decline?
  • Is peak oil more likely than peak natural gas?

Our Energy Gauges Are Broken

  • Current energy data (oil, NG and electricity) is inconsisten, misleading and often useless
  • 95% of world's proven oil and gas reserves are 'un-audited'
  • Demand estimates take years to veriy.
  • Petroleum stocks are mostly computerized guesses
  • Field-by-field production reports (excluding North Sea) virtually non-existent

World Should Assume We Are At Peak For Oil AND Gas

  • Optimists have no meaningful facts to bolster enthusiasm
  • Peaking of usable oil and gas is either

    • Approaching front door
    • Knocking at the world's door
    • Now inside the house
  • Denial has crated an awful global crisis
  • Denying peaking of modern energy creates the ultimate crisis

What "Twilight In The Desert" Conludes:

  • 5 super giant fields are all mature
  • 3 giant fields are also mature
  • Water incursion is growing.
  • Corrosion problems are serious
  • Significant production growth is risky strategy
  • Production conservation is safest production policy.
  • Exploration finds were meek.

March 2006: I Revist The SPE Library [SPE= Society of Petroleum Engineers]

  • Reading 40-60 SPE papers filed after "Twilight" was published provided excellent update on real time issues
  • The exercise underscroed the importance of SPE papers and their value
  • It further underscored preposterous charge that these papers are 'junk science.' (My critics' contention

Make Sure 'Solutions' Do Not Deepen the Energy Hole

  • Many suggested alternative energy solutions may worsen the crisis
  • Any source of useable energy with energy input close to same energy output will not work
  • Many solutions do not scale
  • Some only provide intermittent electricity
  • Understanding energy input/output is crucial
  • Creating an honest energy dialogue is urgent

(24 May 2006)
Presentation to the CFA Society of St. Louis. Submitter WT says: "55 slides, many unlike anything I've seen from Simmons before."

Rather than face up to climate change and do what can be done, humanity may opt to let it happen

John Gray, New Statesman
All shades of opinion are in denial about the magnitude of the environmental challenge facing us. Our need to be comfortable may be stronger than our will to survive
During the present century, human beings are likely to experience a change in the planetary environment unlike any in history. Climate change is irreversible, and accelerating fast. No one, apart from a few cranks speaking on behalf of the Bush administration, doubts that global warming is a side effect of human activity.

...The message of science is clear: humans will soon find themselves in a world different from any they have ever lived in. Altering our way of life to cope with these conditions will be phenomenally difficult - if it can be done at all. Yet all sections of opinion are in denial regarding the scale of the shift and the magnitude of the challenge it poses. Mainstream politicians and green activists differ on many points; but they all believe that climate change can be halted or rendered innocuous, if only we adopt the right policies. They are at one in rejecting the fact that runaway climate change is a result of the toxic mix of rapidly growing human numbers with worldwide industrialisation. Across the whole political spectrum there is a refusal to face up to this reality. This is nowhere clearer than among the Greens, who persist in a delusional faith that sustainable development and renewable energy can save the day.

...Global warming as we know it today is a by-product of the industrial revolution. The temperature of the planet has been rising since roughly 1800, when the use of fossil fuels began on a large scale. Industrialisation and fossil-fuel use are different sides of the same process, and it is the rising demand for energy that is fuelling global warming. Our present industrial civilisation began with coal, and it may well end there. Oil gained in importance in energy use throughout the 20th century, but as light crude oil becomes scarcer and more expensive, industrial societies are beginning to look to other fossil fuels which are still abundant - notably coal and tar sands. If the oil price remains high over the coming years, market processes will make these other fuels economically viable, and many economists think this will solve our problems. They have failed to factor in the increase in global warming that such a shift will entail. There are new technologies that can make coal cleaner, and we would be well advised to develop them further if we want to limit its environmental risks; but a global shift from conventional energy sources to coal and tar sands is bound to increase greenhouse gases. While shifting to other fossil fuels may make economic sense, there is nothing in the operation of the price mechanism that registers costs to the planet as a whole.

Green activists say they want a new global economic system in which fossil fuels play a much smaller part and damage to the planet is fully accounted for, but here again we are in the realm of denial. The type of energy-intensive industrial economy that is being adopted in India and China is clearly unsustainable. At the same time there is not the remotest prospect that the rush to industrialisation will be abandoned.

...Rather than flirting with the fantasy of a low-tech society we need to focus on high-tech solutions to environmental crisis. Technology cannot change the human condition. It cannot repeal the laws of thermodynamics, or make human beings less prone to folly or illusion than they have always been. It cannot even deflect the current wave of climate change, which will go on for centuries whatever we do now. What technology can do is help us cope with the abrupt alteration in the planetary environment that human activity has triggered - a process of adjustment that is sure to be forbiddingly difficult. We cannot stop climate change. If we make the most of technologies that limit the need for fossil fuels we can avoid accelerating it.

... the planetary rebalancing that is under way cannot be prevented by any transformation of human society, however revolutionary. Adapting to the situation requires political decisions, but there is no political solution to the problems we face. The human species has overshot the planet's resources, and it will have to use all its technological ingenuity if it is to avoid catastrophe.
(29 May 2006)
In his latest essay, English intellectual John Gray assumes a place alongside scientist James Lovelock in the PO/GW taxonomy. They rate high on the doomerosity scale and high in technology (e.g., they advocate nuclear power and replacing farming with synthetic foods).

Although I've enjoyed other essays that Gray has written, this one puzzled me. He seems remarkably certain about complicated technical issues about which leading scientists express uncertainty. Most serious researchers are less confident of nuclear as a cure-all; instead they talk of a portfolio of different energy sources since it is hard to predict which will be most viable. In particular, most point to conservation/efficiency as the quickest, most cost-effective responses to energy shortages and global warming.

Gray's approving mention of "synthetic food" seems particularly bizarre. Billions of peasant farmers are going to give up farming for Soylent Green?

According to Graeme at peakoil-dot-com: "Only one free view per day".

Designing ourselves to death

Jeremy Leggett, Guardian (Comment)
Cars are killing the planet. The carbon arithmetic allows no other conclusion. But there is an alternative.
The Economist debate at the Hay festival this year asked the question "are cars killing the planet". Yes, I argued, they are, to the extent that people as they are currently designing and using cars are playing a major role in killing the planet.

...Instead of burning the 400 billion tonnes of carbon in oil (and however much of the gas and coal we decide to adapt for liquid fuels), we could if we wanted opt for a "feasible utopia" of alternatives. Let me give two examples of what I mean.

The first involves America, guzzler of 20 of the world's daily 84 million barrels of oil consumed. 12 of these 20 are imported, five of them from the Gulf. In a recent study, part funded by the Pentagon no less, a group of American energy-efficiency gurus concluded that all the oil the United States now uses could be displaced for less capital outlay than it would take to buy that oil. To replace oil use with cheaper alternatives in this way, the US would have to invest $180 billion over the next decade, for which the return would be $130 billion in annual savings by 2025. There are four steps to this particular feasible utopia.

First the US would have to use oil twice as efficiently as is the case today...

Second the US would need to substitute biofuels for gasoline....

Third the US would have to save some natural gas. This it could do easily. Low-hanging fruit, in terms of gas-efficiency measures, could easily save half projected national gas demand by 2025. The saved gas could be used instead of oil, or to make hydrogen.

The fourth step would be to introduce hydrogen...

My second example of feasible utopia is Sweden. The Swedish government announced in February that it plans to be world's first oil-free economy, and to achieve that status within 15 years from now...

We have to design and plan our way to survival and that is not in the direction of more suburbs. If we opt for high-concentration urban design, we can take great steps in both emissions reductions and social enhancement: from the renaissance of community through the chopping of the asthma rate, to many other social goods.

...if we redesign cities to eschew the car, maximise public transportation, and stop the spread of suburbs, we can cut the need for growth in absolute vehicle numbers. I do not own a car. Living as I do In London, this absence of vehicle actually improves my quality of life. Living where my parents do, in rural Sussex, carlessness is not an option. That is where vehicle redesign comes in.

Thanks to the peak oil problem, we will have to come to grips with all this whether we like it or not. As Hugo Chavez pointed out when visiting London recently, accelerating oil depletion and rising oil prices are going to leave many in the British middle classes in a state of enforced carlessness, and soon.
(27 May 2006)
Profile of author Leggett.

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