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Interview with Jean Laherrère

Luís de Sousa, The Oil Drum: Europe
Jean Laherrère kindly agreed to give an interview to TOD:E by e-mail. For several years he was virtually the sole researcher modelling Coal depletion in the same vein it is done for Oil and Gas. Despite being considerably different from the common sense of limitless Coal, his forecasts were this year confirmed by several studies and reports. TOD:E got some comments on this matter as so on the general Fossil Fuels depletion picture and our future beyond them

TOD:E : You have been calling for a thorough assessment of future Coal production for some time, claiming that Coal has been wrongly regarded as a virtually infinite resource, and that it will likely peak circa 2050. Since the beginning of the year we had several studies made public, that not only confirm your views on Coal, but show a peak even sooner. Remarkably, two different studies, one by the Energy Watch Group (EWG), another by David Rutledge (California Institute of Technology) point to a Coal peak by 2025. What do you think of these studies?

JL : Both studies are good and rely on BGR (German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources) reserves and resources presently known, but it is hard from BGR data to estimate the coal ultimate recovery, because most of coal resources will stay as resources in the ground without being converted into reserves. The Zittel group (EWG) is right to say that data is of poor quality, because contrary to oil and gas there is no scout company collecting technical coal data and compiling a homogeneous world coal inventory. IEA, WEC just give the list of what national agencies report and these data are heterogeneous because nations usually report very optimistic values and there are no strict rules of coal reserves (and resources) definitions. There is always confusion between reserves and resources.

…TOD:E : Regarding Oil, last year you were saying that a bumpy plateau was more likely than a peak. Looking back, the past 3 years look very much like a plateau; is this it, the final plateau? How long do you think it will last?

JL : When showing forecasts with bell-shaped curves, I have since several years warned that because of constraints the peak would be in fact a bumpy plateau.

World oil liquids is indeed presently in a plateau between 84 and 85 Mb/d since May 2005, when it went over 85 Mb/d; the last April production was 84.3 Mb/d, from table 1.4 of EIA. But the present two years step can be as the one in 2001 and 2002.

For short term the problem is not the size of the tank (reserves and ultimate) but the size of the tap and the way the tap is partly closed by political constraints as insecurity in Iraq, Nigeria or nationalisation (Venezuela, Bolivia, Russia). Also the demand may decrease if there is a world recession and the US housing bubble is a bad sign for a country that has negative savings when borrowing 80% of the world savings!

The best approach for knowing what will be the world production of the next ten years is to look at all the megaprojects, as did Chris Skebowski.

…TOD:E : Looking to the future, what do you think will happen to our Society and Civilization in the next decades? Will we sort our way through the crisis? What technologies/energy sources do you foresee us using in the future?

JL : I was also one of the first ones to say that, despite knowing little on economy being an oil explorer, I was more worried by a possible coming recession (following 2004 Paul Wolcker’s forecast) than by a peak from supply. I am also adding that geology is rational, when human behaviour is often irrational and this is why I refuse always to make any forecast on oil and gas prices.

I am convinced that the only way to leave to our grandchildren an earth with enough resources and not much pollution and debt is to change our way of life.

…CO2 is the wrong enemy; it is wasting energy which must be reduced. Sequestration of CO2 will consume more energy and it is better not to emit CO2 which can be avoided.

Technology is very good to produce quicker and cheaper conventional fields, but cannot change the geology of the reservoir which determines mainly the recovery of oil and gas ..
(1 August 2007)

Easy Come, Easy Go, or: The Incredible Disappearing 140 Tcf of Canadian Gas.

Libelle, The Oil Drum: Canada
I posted an article “The Future of (Natural) Gas from the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin?” a few months ago, suggesting that the numbers suggested for Western Canadian gas in the NRCan report “Canadian Natural Gas Review of 2004 & Outlook to 2020” were exceedingly optimistic, basing that conclusion on both National Energy Board Scenarios and actual events.

I did not expect that the next NRCan report in the series would reflect this view, but it has since come out, and its contents prompted me to look further back in the series and then to look at how other official and unofficial assessments were changing.


The summary of all this can be short. It is unlikely that the total natural gas supply available in North America (including imports) will ever again be as high as it now is. Get used to using less.
(1 August 2007)

How To Explain Peak Oil To Anyone

Sharon Astyk, Casaubon’s Book
It has occurred to me that there must be a simple way of explaining peak oil to everyone – but most solutions have concentrated on creating a *single* simple method of explaining peak oil, when what is needed is a highly specialized approach, designed to help people grasp the issue in the most basic terms imaginable. Being a helpful sort, I have undertaken to provide those explanations. Thus, all you need to do is evaluate the person you are explaining things too, and from there, insert the proper explanation. BTW, just in case you can’t figure this out, this is intended to be funny and is bound to offend someone, probably everyone. Deal.

-If the Person is a lot like: Homer Simpson

The way to explain it is: “Beer comes from oil. You use oil to run tractor to grow barley. You use oil to run fermenting equipment. You use oil to ship beer to liquor store. You use gas, made from oil, to drive drunk to the store to get beer. No oil means no more beer – ever.”

The solution you offer is: “More beer good. Beer comes from oil. Must. Save. Beer.”

… -If the person is a lot like: Rush Limbaugh

The way to explain it is: “Evil people in China and India are burning up all of America’s oil. Those selfish bastards are trying to compete with us just so that they can have running water, and the democrats in congress won’t let us nuke them like we really should. They are trying to prove that Americans can’t compete without a lot of energy. We need to prove that we’re better than they are, with or without oil, because God loves America best. With Jesus to help us conserve, we don’t have to have oil.”

The solution you offer is: Conservation is Patriotic, and a good way to stick it to people in other countries.

… -If the person is a lot like: Grandpa Simpson

The way to explain it is: “You know, back in the old days we didn’t have all this newfangled technology crap. We just did good, hard work, and knew the value of a dollar. Back then we didn’t need tv, or cell phones or cars. We didn’t sit around downloading music from that there internet, we had real music, in real speakeasies, and we danced for hours. And that porno-graphy on that there filthy computer – in our day we had to do real work to see naked women, carve real peep holes through rock-hard chestnut boards. These kids today are too fat and spoiled to dance, and they wouldn’t know what to do with a hoe or a horse or a jackknife if it bit them in the ass. We need legislation to get them off the streets and back onto the farms!

What to suggest: National service programs, Chain gangs and Victory Gardens

If the Person is an Aging Hippie:

What to say is: “You were right about everything. Absolutely everything. Growing your own food. Renewable energy. The economy. Drugs. How sexy greying ponytails are. Not trusting old people…oh…wait…” Well, almost everything.

What to suggest: Stop looking so smug.
(1 August 2007)
In humor, there is truth. -BA


Richard Karn, the Emerging Trends Report via Financial Sense University
Let us for a moment adopt the sunniest of outlooks for the transportation fuel sector in the United States and assume all of the programs either underway, under development or proposed are successfully implemented.

Let us for a moment accept:

  • that ethanol produces a positive Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI); that is, it releases more energy than is required to produce the ethanol itself;

  • that carbon dioxide capture and sequestration is not so prohibitively expensive as to render coal-to-liquid fuel technology uneconomical;
  • that substantially higher fuel economy standards will be mandated, freeway speeds reduced, and that automobiles will be properly serviced and maintained;
  • that the roll-out of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) and electric vehicles (EV) will be on schedule, in volume and at the price points projected-all fed by vast solar arrays and wind farms;
  • and that Peak Oil, the point at which global oil fields have had half of their reserves extracted and go into irreversible production decline, is irrelevant as the theory can only be confirmed considerably after the fact– and hasn’t been yet.

While we are suspending disbelief, let us accept that the roughly 35 years of uniform bi-partisan inaction spanning seven administrations and resulting in a near doubling of our dependency on imported oil can be undone by these actions.

…and perhaps had we earnestly embarked on these projects 15 or 20 years ago, we’d be free today to continue our feckless fuelhardy ways.

But the reality is America’s transportation fuel supply is anything but secure, for we are just starting to undertake these projects now and the viability of at least half of the list above is by no means assured. More disturbing, even if all of these projects are successfully implemented, it will require at least a decade, and more probably two, to “make a sharp reduction in (US) dependence on imports”[1]; and in the meantime we are but one country of many competing for a disproportionate share of a shrinking global pool of oil.
(31 July 2007)
Long essay taken from an extended report, available for purchase. -BA

Review: The Last Oil Shock

Mick Winter, Dry Dipstick
Author: David Strahan
ISBN: 978-0-7195-6423-9
2007, John Murray – U.K.

The last thing I needed to do was read yet another book about Peak Oil. I’ve been reading extensively about it since 2003. But I promised the publisher I would read it. So I finally did.

I’m glad I carried out my promise.

The Last Oil Shock is an excellent book. David Strahan has written an informative, insightful and, yes, even entertaining book that delves into the history and causes of Peak Oil, the various “cures” put forward by oil companies and others in Big Energy and Big Politics, and the likely ramifications of both Peak Oil and its alleged-should I say “threatened”?-cures.

The book has a slight UK-centric approach which is a refreshing change from the USA-centric perspective of most other books on the subject. American readers should not be deterred. There’s just enough of the British situational viewpoint to understand how universal the problem is, and the uniqueness of the various flavors that energy depletion offers from country to country.

Strahan is first of all a superb journalist. He is objective in his facts, backs up his statements, and offers both breadth and depth in his account of Peak Oil. But Strahan also has a position; one which enhances, rather than obscures, his objectivity. His wry, even biting, sense of humor and his observation of the energy predicament’s ironies and, alas, frequent hypocrisies, come through in a manner that allows his facts to be enjoyable digested all the way through the book.

I highly recommend reading The Last Oil Shock.

Although the book’s not yet available in the U.S. (but you can order it through Amazon Canada), you can find lots of relevant information at Strahan’s website at, including his interactive oil depletion atlas.

Mick Winter of is author of Peak Oil Prep: Prepare for Peak Oil, Climate Change and Economic Collapse (
(1 August 2007)

Ask Not For Whom The Wind Blows…

Big Gav, Peak Energy (Australia)
As is usual in recent years, the Europeans are leading the way towards our clean energy future. The Economist has an excellent report on a “grandiose plan to link Europe’s electricity grids that may recast wind power from its current role as a walk-on extra to being the star of the show”.

I know Olduvai Cliff theory fans don’t think much of this idea, but our grids are going to become more interconnected and smarter, and the mix is going to shift towards wind, solar, geothermal and tidal/wave energy (often from remote regions) that supplements and slowly replaces old school energy sources like coal, oil, gas and nuclear. Get used to it.

The article also mentions some of my favourite hobby horses – the global energy grid (aka GENI) and harnessing the solar resources of the Sahara and the tidal energy of Siberia. I wonder what blogs those guys read…
(1 Aug 2007)
Big Gav is back from vacation and posting energy-related commentary and headlines again: homepage. BG is always coming up with surprises, like this: Mao’s megaphones come to the streets of Sydney. -BA