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Peak energy: promise or peril? (Nature)

Kurt Kleiner, Nature Reports
The notion that we’re running out of fossil fuel is gaining support in some unexpected quarters. But is peak energy good or bad news for the climate?

Will we continue to use fossil fuels to the detriment of our planet and the human population? Or can we clean up our act in time to avoid calamitous change? That’s the dilemma the world currently faces, yet in spite of efforts to transition to alterative energy sources, projections show that annual fossil fuel demand is likely to increase 45 per cent by 2030.

But those projections make an important assumption — that there will be enough oil, coal and natural gas to meet the demand. That’s a view that is increasingly being challenged by researchers, who are now looking at what declining fossil fuel supplies might mean for the Earth’s climate. Although some say that a peak in energy production could allow us to avoid the most serious consequences of climate change, others fear that we will still suffer disastrous impacts and run out of energy to boot.

“It’s not enough to sit back and say, ‘Oh, because we’re going to run out of fossil fuels we don’t have to worry about the climate.’ But [this] does seem to indicate that the more fossil fuel rich scenarios used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have little likelihood of being realized,” says Robert Brecha, a physicist at the University of Dayton, Ohio.

The concept of fossil fuels peaking first came about in 1956, when an American oil-company geophysicist named M. King Hubbert correctly predicted that US oil production would climax in the early 1970s …
(19 February 2009)

New documentary: “Australia Pumping Empty Sampler”
(video and text)
Aquila Productions


Explore the real reason behind rising energy, food and fuel prices.

It features interviews with experts from a wide range of fields from urban research to oil refining. They explain the implications of peak oil for Australia and the efforts that can be undertaken to reduce our oil dependence.

Research: After reading a wide range of literature ourselves including books published by world renowned oil exploration geologists such as Kenneth Deffeyes, Colin Campbell and Jeremy Leggett, we approached Australian experts in the field to get an Australian perspective on camera. The film director, Robert Simpson attended several ASPO Australia (Australian Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas) meetings to ascertain the credibility and potential impact of Peak Oil on our local communities, Australia-wide.
(February 2009)
DVD is available at the site. Stuart McCarthy of ASPO-ANZ writes:
This is an excellent documentary on peak oil, filmed here in South East Queensland.

“Australia Pumping Empty – the Looming Peak Oil Crisis” will screen on QCTV on Wednesday evening the 4th of March at 8:00pm. There will be a repeat screening at 1:00am the following morning (shift workers/insomniacs) and again at 7:30am March 5th. QCTV is a community station found at channel 31 on the UHF band (Ultra High Frequency). SBS is also on this band at channel 28.

Rob Simpson (Doco director) writes:
Australia Pumping Empty – The Looming Peak Oil Crisis” was shot in and around South East Queensland in 2008 by Aquila productions, a Brisbane based documentary production team. This 46 minute documentary is an educational Peak Oil primer. Its aim is to inform general audiences about the issue of Peak Oil. The film features ASPO founding patron Andrew McNamara – now Queensland Minister for Sustainability, Innovation and Change, along with Ian Dunlop, former International Oil, Coal and Gas Executive and a host of other well studied experts across such fields as geology, energy consultancy, oil refinery technician work, town planning, community supported agriculture, urban research and ecology. The film is a rigorous proponent of Peak Oil and puts forward mitigation strategies recommended by a governement commissioned taskforce report to reduce Australia’s oil dependence.

The Conservation Imperative: Energy Limits to Growth and the Path to Sustainability

Richard Heinberg, Museletter via GPM
While this report is focused on the prospects for alternative energy sources to replace fossil fuels, it is useful to apply the above criteria first to oil, coal, and gas so that comparisons can be made with their potential replacements.

Oil. As the world’s current primary energy source, oil fuels nearly all global transportation—cars, planes, trains, and ships (the exceptions, such as electric cars and subways, electric trains, and sailing ships, are statistically insignificant). Petroleum provides about 40 percent of total world energy, or about 40 EJ per year. The world currently uses about 74 million barrels of oil per day, or 30 billion barrels per year, and reserves amount to about one trillion barrels (though the figure is disputed).

Plus: Petroleum has become so widely relied upon because of its basic characteristics: it is highly transportable as a liquid at room temperature and is easily stored. It is energy dense (a cup of oil contains as much energy as 1 ½ lbs of wood, or 42 MJ per kilogram). Historically, oil has been cheap to produce, and easy to transport and use, and can be procured from a very small land footprint.

Minus: Oil’s downsides are as plain as its advantages.

Its environmental impacts are significant. Extraction is especially damaging in poorer nations such as Ecuador and Nigeria, where the industry tends to spend minimally on the kinds of remediation efforts that are required by law in the US; as a result, rivers and wetlands are fouled, air is polluted, and indigenous people see their ways of life threatened. Meanwhile, burning oil releases climate-changing CO2 (about 800 to 1000 lbs CO2 per barrel [13]), as well as other pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and particulates.

Oil is also non-renewable, and many of the world’s largest oilfields are already significantly depleted.
(19 February 2009)
We’re working on getting the entire article posted at EB. -BA

“Blind Spot” Documentary

Gail Tverberg, The Oil Drum
Blind Spot is a new documentary directed by Adolfo Doring that may be of interest to Oil Drum readers. This is a link to its website. It is described thus:

Blind Spot is a documentary film that illustrates the current oil and energy crisis that our world is facing. Whatever measures of ignorance, greed, wishful thinking, we have put ourselves at a crossroads, which offer two paths with dire consequences. If we continue to burn fossil fuels we will choke the life out of the planet and if we don’t our way of life will collapse.

According to one review, “It makes ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ look like a sitcom”.

The movie features interviews with William Catton Jr., Max Fraad Wolff, Richard Heinberg, Kenneth Deffeyes, Albert Bartlett, Roscoe Bartlett, James Hansen, David Pimentel, Joseph Tainter, David Korten, Jason Bradford, Elke Weber, Mary-Ann Hitt, Terry Tamminen, Ted Caplow and Derrick Jensen.

The movie is available as a DVD for $16 and lasts about 1.5 hours. It would be great if readers could convince a local public television station to show it. The web site includes a trailer and 12 short excerpts available on the website. Some quotes about the film below the fold.

(20 February 2009)

Trouble Trickles From Steep Drop in Oil Prices

Steven Mufson, Washington Post
Once Flush Global Economies, Energy Projects Stall

The precipitous fall in the price of oil in recent months, while good for consumers, has contributed to the confusion in the global economy, wreaking havoc with the budgets and economies of oil-exporting nations and putting many expensive energy projects on hold.

In Canada, where President Obama visited yesterday, the drop in oil prices has done more to slow development of controversial oil sands projects than the protests of environmental groups, who note that the energy-intensive process of mining those sands contributes to global warming.

… The overwhelming cause of the collapse in oil prices has been the faltering world economy, which has fueled the drop in consumption.

… In a speech last week at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, OPEC President Chakib Khelil said that prices might be too low to provide incentives for exploration needed for future production.

… Some analysts agree with Khelil’s warning about investment, particularly in non-OPEC countries.

“The big surprise in 2009, particularly by the second half of year, will be the loss of non-OPEC production,” said Larry Goldstein, a trustee with the Energy Policy Research Foundation. He pointed to swiftly falling cash flows and oil production in Russia and Mexico.

But other analysts said that falling exploration costs could help companies keep activity high, even if spending eased.
(20 February 2009)