Building a world of
resilient communities.

MAIN LIST

 

A peak by any other name is still a peak

Those who criticize peak oil theory or at least the conclusion that peak oil is nearby find themselves faced with a naming problem. If they believe that oil supplies are for all practical purposes infinite (an idea usually associated with the abiotic theory of oil), they are consigned to the category of people who are incapable of accepting the overwhelming evidence that no matter what oil's origins, it is, in any time frame that matters to humans, finite. They are not exactly cornucopians.

Genuine cornucopians don't deny that hydrocarbons are limited in supply. Rather, they believe that humans will find ingenious new ways to power their economies through innovation and marketplace incentives and that they will do this in plenty of time. At the very least, the infinite supply theorists should not be classed among the reality-based community.

Of those who accept that oil is a finite resource, many believe a decline in supply won't occur for three decades or more. They use such words as "undulating plateau" or "no visible peak" (Michael Lynch) to describe their views. Perhaps the most ingenious formulation is that put forth by Daniel Yergin, long-time head of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, that the risks to oil supply lie above ground rather than below it. This implies a desire for a certain kind of unspecified foreign and domestic policy to solve the "above ground" problems. (These problems, of course, are problems primarily for oil importers, not oil exporters.) The problems include the following:

  1. The most promising areas for oil exploration are under the control of national oil companies that refuse to open them to large-scale prospecting and development by foreign-based firms.
  2. The chaos in oil-rich areas such as Nigeria and Iraq is preventing oil production from reaching its full capacity.
  3. Unreasonable restrictions on drilling in such areas as the water surrounding the United States and public lands owned by the government are delaying much needed discoveries.
  4. Industry is not investing enough in exploration, infrastructure and alternative energy.

Just how much violence, war or state coercion Yergin might be willing to accept to solve these problems is unclear, especially since Yergin styles himself as a free market advocate. But he may not quality for inclusion in the reality-based community if he believes that rational problem-solving will somehow allow us to overcome all of the hurdles he enumerates.

The point is that Yergin is actually expanding the case for his opponents in the peak oil debate. Peak oil isn't just a product of geology. It will be the result of the interaction of geological reality, infrastructure, political and military decisions, economic cycles, and consumer behavior. Peak is about flows, and flows of oil may end up peaking for any number of reasons even if the underlying resource remains quite large. Yes, geology is not the only consideration. But, is a peak any less of a peak if it occurs for a multitude of reasons rather than one? Won't we will still have to deal with the resulting fallout?

From a larger perspective, the debate over the exact timing of peak oil really comes down to this: How much running room do we have before we go off a cliff? Given the damage that a the cliff implies and given the uncertainty over how much running room we have, wouldn't it be wise to make serious efforts to prepare now instead of waiting to see just how close to the cliff we really are?

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Sign up for regular Resilience bulletins direct to your email.

Take action!  

Find out more about Community Resilience. See our COMMUNITIES page
Start your own projects. See our RESOURCES page.
Help build resilience. DONATE NOW.

 

This is a community site and the discussion is moderated. The rules in brief: no personal abuse and no climate denial. Complete Guidelines.


Peak Oil Review: A Midweek Update - Apr 28

 A midweek update. Oil prices continued to climb this week, capped …

San Francisco Becomes First Major City to Require Solar Panels on New Buildings

San Francisco is one step closer to its goal of transitioning to 100 percent …

The Outlook for Electric Vehicles  

Electric vehicles are all the rage right now, and hopes are high that we …

We Could Be Witnessing the Death of the Fossil Fuel Industry—Will It Take the Rest of the Economy Down With It?

It’s not looking good for the global fossil fuel industry. Although …

Gov. Cuomo Rejects the Constitution Pipeline, Huge Win for the Anti-Fracking Movement

In a win for climate activists and the anti-fracking movement, and a blow to …

Peak Oil Review - Apr 25

 A weekly roundup of peak oil news, including: Quotes of the week -Oil …

Peak Oil Review: A Midweek Update - Apr 21

 A mid-week update. After a short-lived downturn following the failure …