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The Energy Optimist’s Lexicon

Kurt Cobb, Scitizen
The world’s energy optimists often employ a particular lexicon to make their case for abundance far into the future. Whether the lexicon is used cynically or out of ignorance, the result is the same: false impressions.

It is understandable that when people want to argue their case effectively, they use the terms most favorable to their argument. We should expect that in any spirited debate. But when it comes to the debate over the world’s energy future, those arguing for continued abundance are sometimes ignorant of the full implications of the terms they use and sometimes just intellectually dishonest.

To help readers sort through the thicket of loaded terms often used by the energy optimists, I’ve constructed a short list of the most pernicious words and phrases that are often used to fool audiences rather than inform them.

Above-ground factors — The optimists argue that there is plenty of oil, usually for many decades to comes, so long as “above-ground factors” don’t prevent its extraction. Factors cited often include wars, social unrest, lack of investment, environmental restrictions on drilling, and political restrictions on foreign ownership or participation in oil development in countries thought to have high potential for oil discovery. (Most, but not all of these, are in the Middle East.)

Of course, the optimists are correct that all these factors can depress oil output. But the assumption behind their lament is that somehow we can easily brush aside these factors. Do these optimists propose that we simply threaten countries or perhaps invade them to force them to allow their untapped fields to be explored and developed? Do they advocate the wholesale dismantling of environmental regulations? Do they have a plan for forcing the oil industry to make the necessary investments in exploration and infrastructure? Usually, they don’t say.

But what readers need to understand is that the oil infrastructure is both an above-ground and below-ground system inextricably intertwined.
(25 November 2008)

Norway Slips On Scarcer Oil

Parmy Olson, Forbes
The Norwegian economy contracted by a sharper than expected 0.7% in the third quarter, in part because North Sea crude is becoming harder to extract.

As if the global financial crisis were not tough enough to contend with, Norwegians are having to cope with the fact that their precious oil reserves are running dry. The latest economic figures for Norway showed that gross domestic product in the third quarter shrank by 0.7%, from the previous quarter, missing estimates for flat growth. The problem seems to be not just a drop in consumer spending, as fears about the international economic downturn compel Norwegians to hoard their cash, but a growing difficulty in extracting crude from the North Sea.

“We’re investing more than ever to get oil out of the North Sea, but production is still flat or falling because the older fields are giving less oil,” said Nordea Markets economist Erik Bruce, adding that mainland growth–which excludes offshore oil production–exhibited a 0.2% quarter-on-quarter uptick in growth. Still, oil production is critical to Norway’s economy, accounting for 20.0% of the country’s GDP in 2007. It is also the bedrock of the Norwegian government pension fund–known colloquially as the Oil Fund after its main source of income.
(25 November 2008)

Report available: “Impact of Peak Oil in South Australia”
Michael Lardelli, Energy Bulletin
Beyond Oil SA – Select Committee Report on Impact of Peak Oil in SA Tabled

Dear BOSA listmembers and some others,

The parliamentary Select Committee on the Impact of Peak Oil in South Australia has tabled its report! You can download it by clicking on the following links:


Congratulations to Sandra Kanck, Democrats MLC for her outstanding work in establishing and running this select committee. Sandra has been fearlessly and unflinchingly outspoken on contentious issues but she will soon retire from the Legislative Council. This will be a great loss to South Australia’s democracy. We wish her well in the “interesting” future that awaits us all!

Readers can send comments on the report and congratulations to her on her impending retirement from parliament to her email address:

[email protected]
(27 November 2008)

Predicting Future Supply from Undiscovered Oil

Khebab, The Oil Drum
The shock model, originally proposed by WebHubbleTelescope, is an attempt to link discovery data, reserves and production (see this post and this post for more details). Put simply, it is based on the observation that the oil production cycle results in a time shift and dispersion of the original discovered resources. In other words, there is a delay between first discovery and a mature oil production as well as a transformation of the original discovery curve imposed by the available production infrastructure. In its last report, the IEA is proposing the following forecast for supply for yet-to-be-found (YTF) oil fields:

… In Summary

A few thoughts:

1. The IEA report is all about expected production by year, with it being important to their story that production not decline before 2030. The IEO WEO 2008 forecast production for 2030 is 19.4 barrels a day. With the realistic estimate, the expected production in 2030 is only about 9.6 million barrels a day, and with the optimistic estimate it is about 15.5 barrels a day.
2. The IEA provides few details about what is behind this forecast.
3. A total of 114 Gb given by the IEA for YTF does not make a lot of sense, it suggests a 5 Gb/year discovery rate. The developed amount will even be lower than that around 90 Gb. It is very likely that 114 Gb refers to the total developed YTF for 2008-2030.
4. The steepness of the IEA forecast requires high extraction rates (Figure 5) unless it is based on at least a steady rate of new discoveries around 10-11 Gb per year.
5. The declining discovery rate scenario (Figure 4) does not support production going beyond 10 mbpd in 2030.
6. The combination of the current financial meltdown, collapsing oil prices, technical challenges of new projects is pointing toward higher time lags for the different oil development cycles. This will contribute to further lowering the amount of developed new discoveries.
(26 November 2008)

Hubbert: King Of The Technocrats

Big Gav, The Oil Drum: ANZ
In the wake of the recent interview with Jay Hanson posted at The Oil Drum, there was some discussion of Hubbert’s role in the Technocracy movement.

I hadn’t been aware that Hubbert was a Technocrat (or that the technocrats were an organised grouping, for that matter), so in this post I’ll explore the Technocracy movement and Hubbert’s role in it.

The knowledge essential to competent intellectual leadership in this situation is preeminently geological – a knowledge of the earth’s mineral and energy resources. The importance of any science, socially, is its effect on what people think and what they do. It is time earth scientists again become a major force in how people think rather than how they live.
– M King Hubbert

(26 November 2008)