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Peak oil & coal - June 25

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

Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage

The peak oil society

Andrew Cameron, Sydney Anglican Network
...These are complex discussions [about energy and peak oil] and the purpose of this briefing is not to come down on any one side. ... We want to tell a different story here - a theological story, that can bring hope. But we will take a little longer than usual to tell it.

One response to peak oil becomes instantly apparent in a quick web search. This is the ‘survivalist' response. ... In this myth, interdependency upon others is at best a necessary means to an end. We do it because we have to. It becomes the only way to consume our stockpile in peace.

According to Christian thought, both of these myths have failed at the most basic level of description. For what is humanity? In Christian thought, to be us is to be an us: interdependency is not just helpful, it is who we are. We are social beings. ‘Society' is not ‘convenient'-it is what we are made for.

Therefore the solution to peak oil can and will only ever be a social one, and in pursuing a social solution, we rediscover the central truth about human anthropology: that we need each other.

...Once we realise that the solution is social, some aspects of the supposed peak-oil ‘crisis' can be seen more clearly. For there is a sense in which the absence of oil only has one real effect. It will give back to us a proper sense of our creaturely limitation, as little embodied animals who can only walk a few kilometres a day. Our spatial limitations have always been what give us a sense of a ‘place', or neighbourhood, in which we live. Oil has temporarily tricked us, making these constraints hidden in plain sight, deluding us into thinking that we can soar unencumbered like the angels just because someone can fly us to Phuket or because we can drive interstate. The absence of oil will only throw us back onto what was always the case, and what still remains the case for the majority of the world's population: we are a people who dwell in neighbourhoods, villages and towns, making the best of interdependency with others in the same place.

...Some are already thinking about this ‘powerdown alternative', where we do not just consume less but strategically re-position society to prepare for ‘energy descent'.

...The peak-oil church can do what churches have often done, existing within a wider society and showing onlookers how not to panic and how to find interdependence. These churches will gather people, share resources, and discover and organise gifts and skills. They will support and encourage police to stay at their posts, and exhort governments neither to despair nor to resort to draconian rule or resource-wars. The Christian gospel becomes the new untapped reservoir on how to be a society.

Andrew Cameron,
for the Social Issues Executive, Anglican Church Diocese of Sydney

(25 June 2007)
Although Andrew Cameron speaks in terms of Christianity, similar ideas exist in other traditions.

Related: Elizaphanian, a blog by Anglican priest Sam Norton in the UK, who writes on peak oil and climate change.

Driving home theory of peak oil

Larry Rulison, Albany Times Union
Grass-roots groups doing plenty to educate others of sinking production, expanding demand
Cheryl Nechamen knows that when a discussion turns to the theory of "peak oil," listeners' eyes tend to glaze over. So she's been pleasantly surprised at how well talking about the 100-mile diet helps to break the ice.

The peak oil theory is extremely controversial. It stipulates that the world has reached -- or is about to reach -- its peak oil production, and society's demand for oil will soon start outstripping supply, wreaking havoc on the world economy.

The United States already reached its peak oil production in the 1970s, and that is why it must get oil from other regions.

On the other hand, the 100-mile diet is much more colorful and approachable. The practice originated in 2005 with a couple in Vancouver, Canada, who wanted to reduce the amount of petroleum used to transport food to their table by only buying items grown or made within 100 miles of their home.

Nechamen, a microbiologist who lives in Schenectady, promotes awareness about the peak oil problem through a group she founded called Capital District Energy Action.
(24 June 2007)

The Coal Question and Climate Change

Dave Rutledge, The Oil Drum
This is a guest post by Dave Rutledge, Chair for the Division of Engineering and Applied Science at Caltech, which has 12 departments with 75 faculty members and 500 graduate students.

Dave is fascinated by the possibility that the key to understanding the future of world coal production may be in the history of the mining areas in the northern Appalachians and the north of England. Dave is also interested in the question of how California will make the transition from fossil fuels to renewable fuels for electricity production.

At The Oil Drum, there has been much discussion of the modeling of future oil production and the reliability of reserve data. It is also understood that burning fossil hydrocarbon fuels increases the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, and that this is likely to affect our climate. What about coal? Can we figure out how much coal is likely to be produced, and how quickly the coal reserves will be exhausted? How reliable are coal reserve numbers? What can our models for coal and hydrocarbon production tell us about atmospheric CO2 concentrations? About climate? It turns out that we can give answers to all of these questions, using the same Hubbert linearizations and normal curve fits that we use for oil.

The importance of these approaches to estimating future production is emphasized by this astonishing statement in the pre-publication version of the National Academy of Sciences Report on coal, released yesterday:

Present estimates of coal reserves are based upon methods that have not been reviewed or revised since their inception in 1974, and much of the input data were compiled in the early 1970s. Recent programs to assess reserves in limited areas using updated methods indicate that only a small fraction of previously estimated reserves are actually minable reserves.

(25 June 2007)

Interview with Bill Paul (Author, Future Energy: How the New Oil Industry Will Change People, Politics and Portfolios)
Jim Puplava, Financial Sense Newshour
Concerns over the availability and security of world energy supplies, especially when it comes to crude oil, have many people wondering what the future of this industry holds and how technology will continue to change it. Thanks to the energy technology revolution currently taking place, a promising "new" oil industry is quickly beginning to take shape-and it will, without a doubt, affect every company, household, and investor.

In Future Energy, author Bill Paul--a national energy and environmental journalist for more than thirty years--skillfully addresses the investment implications of this new oil industry and shows you how to profit from the changes that lie ahead.

Bill Paul is a former Wall Street Journal energy and environment reporter and a former special energy correspondent for CNBC TV. He is the editor/publisher of Earth Preservers, an award-winning energy and environmental newspaper for school children. He also is the managing editor and majority owner of a new financial news web site called
(23 June 2007)
Recommended by BrianT in a comment at The Oil Drum:

I just listened to what is, IMHO, a fantastic interview on financialsense with Bill Paul, who has written a new book on energy. After following the peak oil story for a few years all the info becomes somewhat redundant and repetitive, usually quite negative and defeatist. This guy acknowledges all the facts accepted by TOD re energy supply while still painting an optimistic vision for the USA. I am not saying that he has a crystal ball, but IMO his predictions are far more realistic than these Mad Max scenarios. I think everyone would enjoy the interview no matter what your future views are.

Peak Oil is Snake Oil!

Raymond J. Learsy, The Huffington Post
Friday of last week I had occasion to do brief battle on CNBC Morning Call with Steve Andrews, co-founder of what is considered the most influential organization supporting "peak oil", the Hubbert curve theory which predicts future oil availability. Surprisingly there is more than one such organization. And why should that be? The Wall Street Journal summed it up succinctly in an article appearing in the Sept. 14, 2006 issue, stating:

"That argument known as 'peak oil theory' has provided intellectual backing for the boom in crude prices."

My contention was that the fabricated drama of "peak oil" goes back to the very beginnings of oil history, to 1855 when crude oil was bubbling to the surface in Pennsylvania and transformed into patent medicine for Samuel Kier's "Rock Oil". The "Rock Oil" people pointedly cautioned buyers: "Hurry, before this wonderful product is depleted from nature's laboratory".

And that refrain, in one version or another has been a constant theme of the oil peakists for over a century now.

...In this writer's opinion the "peak oil" prankster's zeal is closer to theology than to theory. They are aided by the oil companies that run TV ads advising us that half the planet's oil will be consumed in 20 years, or such as the very recently released study from BP cautioning us that available oil will be consumed in 40 years time. All permitting vested oil interests to tweet "peak, peak, peak" while stampeding us into ever higher prices.

And one last point: what we pay for fossil fuels needs urgently to be readdressed in terms of its cost on our environment, cost on our national security, and cost on our economic and future well-being. The oil and gas market as currently construed and managed is a manipulated and propagandized marketplace that has enriched the oil companies beyond the wildest dreams of Croesus while the rest of the nation absorbs the ancillary costs and is left to deal with their impact on our society. It is time we realized what is scarce is not oil but honesty and transparency.
(25 June 2007)
I can't argue with Raymond J. Learsy's last paragraph, but the rest of his arguments are not impressive. First, for anyone who follows peak oil, Learsy's suggestion that oil companies support the idea of peak oil is truly bizarre. Evidence please? The most sustained attack on peak oil comes from CERA, which probably represents the public position of the oil companies.

To disprove peak oil, Learsy points to various discoveries and enhanced recovery techniques. Thus, he puts forward the same arguments as the oil companies that he views with such suspicion.

One has to look at multiple factors to say something intelligent about peak oil. Can new discoveries and techniques make up for rising demand and depletion of existing reserves? Can one trust estimates of oil reserves from countries that have a vested interest in them? How viable are non-conventional sources of oil?

ASPO, The Oil Drum and other peak oil advocates, investigate the issue at this level and post their results publicly. Opponents of peak oil are welcome to do the same.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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