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Surviving the Apocalypse, On Two Wheels

Holly Jean Buck, The Walrus (journalist’s blog)
Why did Igor Kenk keep more than 2,800 bikes in storage?

That was the question posed by last Saturday’s front-page National Post article [The bicycle messiah of Queen West]. Buried within the article was a possible answer: preparation for the apocalypse. “Det.-Const. Dennis says ‘Mr. Kenk told him ‘the apocalypse is coming.’ In the future when we have run out of oil, we will all need bikes to get around, the logic goes, and Mr. Kenk will have a few in storage to offer us.”

The alleged bike thief has captured the attention of the Canadian press since July 16th, when police claimed to have observed him directing a thief to steal a bike for him. As the investigation spiraled out, more and more bikes were discovered in rented warehouses across Toronto. And more and more fascinating angles on the story developed.

… Clearly, the charismatic Slovenian immigrant makes for a good story. There are questions about his sanity, and the National Post reports that the lead investigator wants him “to get looked at.” However, the constable who arrested him says that “he’s all there.”

What if Igor Kenk isn’t mad?

Suppose the world is running towards a future of oil scarcity. How would we respond?

… Hoarding might be a natural human response to scarcity. Investors amass gold in uncertain times, governments hold oil reserves, Wal-Mart shoppers stock up on rice when food riots are on CNN. Granted, the demand for bikes hasn’t outstripped supply. But when other resources come up short, people might grab for something-anything-that could help them feel prepared. As written in The Oil Drum’s Peak Oil Booklet, “We know that peak oil will be here soon, and we feel like we should be doing something. But what?”

Ride bikes, many would answer. The Internet is full of people who are dreaming and planning for a bicycle-powered future.

… Maybe Igor Kenk wasn’t preparing for the future (if that’s what he was intending to do) in the most coherent, well-thought manner: certainly his Bicycle Clinic on Queen Street couldn’t hope to move that many bikes through its claustrophobic storefront. But there’s something there, something in his behaviour, that speaks to an essential human instinct: this pack-rat impulse, wired together with survival strategies, deep in our neural circuitry.
(6 August 2008)

Peak oil adds fuel to Swiss energy debate

Dale Bechtel, swissinfo
Switzerland, which is “above average” when it comes to oil dependence, is not doing enough to prepare for shortages. This is the key finding of a new report.

The Swiss Academy of Engineering Sciences (SATW) said on Thursday that oil covered 57 per cent of the country’s total energy needs.

The independent umbrella organisation, which brings together experts, institutions and private companies, said Switzerland had to be ready for supply shortages.

One must assume that the maximum global extraction of petroleum – “peak oil” as it has come to be known – will be reached 20 years from now, according to the authors of the SATW report, “Oil shortages and mobility in Switzerland”.

… Switzerland would not be severely affected by an oil supply crisis lasting less than 100 days. In this scenario, the country’s excellent public transport network would partly compensate and the Swiss would reduce unessential car trips in their free time.

The authors say it is difficult to predict the consequences for Switzerland of a crisis lasting several years or even decades.

But the country is in a much better position to replace heating oil entirely with alternative methods to control the climate in houses and buildings.

“It is already possible today to heat buildings without oil or gas,” the report says.

While the SATW admonishes Switzerland for being slow to act, multinational oil companies are not. The authors say they are already preparing for the time after peak oil.

And many oil-producing countries, including the United States, Norway and Indonesia, are already beyond their maximum capacity, it says.

The SATW wants to initiate a public debate on the peak oil issue at a symposium it is organising for August 29-30 in Yverdons-les-Bains.
(7 August 2008)

Oil Prices and the Media: Why the Blackout on Peak Oil

Gabriel Rotello, Huffington Post
Every once in a while history reaches a point of real cognitive dissonance.

I’m beginning to wonder if we are such a point right now. I’m referring to the astounding rise in the price of oil over the last couple of years, the concept of ‘peak oil,’ and the strange silence surrounding that concept in the media.

… If the peak oil folks are correct — and I’m not saying they are, but their predictions seem to be coming to pass, so they deserve a decent hearing in the world media — it constitutes a story of immense importance.

Many of the most prominent peak oil geologists predicted oil prices would skyrocket between 2005 and 2010 and oil prices did indeed skyrocket. They may be wrong about the reasons. It all may be just a coincidence.

But if the fate of the world economy hangs in the balance, it’s a story that deserves significant attention and analysis by the media. If I were an editor at the NY Times or the Wall Street Journal, Time or Newsweek, I would want to analyze it, write about it, inform my readers and viewers about it. I would hate to go down in history as having missed possibly biggest energy story in a hundred years.

Until, of course, it was obvious. And too late.
(5 August 2008)
The Wall Street Journal has been taking peak oil seriously. Not so the NY TImes, LA Times and Washington Post. -BA

Let’s face it, there’s simply not enough oil and gas to go around

Max Oakes, Guardian
We have reached ‘peak oil’, and fuel prices look certain to rise for the foreseeable future, says Max Oakes.

Your leader column points out that “the big six utility firms nearly always raise prices in lockstep” (Up, up and away, July 28). You say that this shows a “market that is not running smoothly, but creaking”.

Quite the opposite is true. All the utility companies have opportunity to buy gas on the same virtual dealing floors. They buy at similar times, and when the market price rises then all the customers have to pay more. The market is working; the problem is a lack of gas supply.

You ask: “Why is gas tied to the price of oil, when the two are separate markets?” The price of oil is linked to gas in a number of ways. Many industries can switch from gas to oil and back at the flick of a switch, which is essential for the cheapest “interruptible” gas supply contracts. Gas and oil are discovered and exploited together and decline together – UK oil extraction peaked in 1999, gas peaked in 2000.

UK oil exports have collapsed to zero in eight years, helping to push up global oil prices. At the same time we have started to import gas, just as international competition takes off. That same international competition is driving up coal prices too.

Britain is, as you say, “a country that still sources 70% of its gas at home”. But that figure is declining at an accelerating rate, now falling 10% per year, and by 2020 80% of our domestic gas production will be gone (government and industry agree on this).

Max Oakes is a member of the Institution of Gas Engineers and is coordinator of the Depletion Scotland group, which aims to raise awareness of the peak oil issue
(7 August 2008)

‘Peak metal’ problems loom, warns scientist

Raymond Beauchemin, The National (Abu Dhabi)
Armin Reller, a materials chemist at the University of Augsburg in Germany, is actually a storyteller. The tale he has to tell is this: in daily life where almost everyone has a mobile phone, television or a car, no one sees the correlation between the product and the raw materials necessary in its fabrication.

“In any mine, you find a poor chap pulling the metal out by hand. At the opposite, polar end of the chain, at the recycling spot, the labour conditions, the humanitarian conditions, are horrible,” he said.

Countries in South Asia and Africa, where labour is cheap and poverty widespread, are where most scrap metal is sent to be disassembled, a potentially dangerous job given the noxious and often harmful chemicals involved. “People using these devices must know they are part of the story,” said Mr Reller.

Now for the scary part: the world is running out of the raw materials used to make televisions, laptops, mobile phones and many of the other digital gadgets of the 21st century.
(7 August 2008)