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Peak oil and supplies - June 8


Senator confirms reports that wellbore is pierced; oil seeping from seabed in multiple places

Florida oil spill law blog
Senator Bill Nelson was interviewed by Andrea Mitchell this morning on MSNBC and confirmed reports of oil seeping up from additional leak points on the seafloor.

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL): Andrea we’re looking into something new right now, that there’s reports of oil that’s seeping up from the seabed… which would indicate, if that’s true, that the well casing itself is actually pierced… underneath the seabed. So, you know, the problems could be just enormous with what we’re facing.

Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC: Now let me understand better what you’re saying. If that is true that it is coming up from that seabed, even the relief well won’t be the final solution to cap this thing. That means that we’ve got oil gushing up at disparate places along the ocean floor.

Sen. Nelson: That is possible, unless you get the plug down low enough, below where the pipe would be breached....

(7 June 2010)



New oil plume evidence uncovered

John Couwels, CNN
As if the pictures of birds, fish and animals killed by floating oil in the Gulf of Mexico are not disturbing enough, scientists now say they have found evidence of another danger lurking underwater.

The University of South Florida recently discovered a second oil plume in the northeastern Gulf. The first plume was found by Mississippi universities in early May.

USF has concluded microscopic oil droplets are forming deep water oil plumes. After a weeklong analysis of water samples, USF scientists found more oil in deeper water.

"These hydrocarbons are from depth and not associated with sinking degraded oil but associated with the source of the Deep Horizon well head," said USF Chemical Oceanographer David Hollander.

Through isotopic or microscopic fingerprinting, Hollander and his USF crew were able to show the oil in the plume came from BP's blown-out oil well. The surface oil's so-called fingerprint matched the tiny underwater droplet's fingerprint.

"We've taken molecular isotopic approaches which is like a fingerprint on a smoking gun," Hollander said.
(7 June 2010)
Please also see Heading Out's post on this topic on the Oil Drum here BP Deepwater Oil Spill - The Oil in the Water, Seeps, and an Open Thread


What the Spill Will Kill

Ian Yarett in New York and Daniel Stone in Washington, Newsweek
It was in mid-May that independent scientists—not any of the officials or researchers working for any of the government agencies on scene at the Deepwater Horizon disaster, let alone BP—first detected the vast underwater plumes of crude oil spreading like Medusa’s locks from the out-of-control gusher in the Gulf of Mexico. BP immediately dismissed the reports, and in late May CEO Tony Hayward flatly declared “there aren’t any plumes,” stopping just short of accusing the scientists of misconduct. Federal officials called the scientists’ claim “misleading, premature and, in some cases, inaccurate.” Moreover, continued a statement from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, any oxygen depletion in the surrounding waters due to plumes is not “a source of concern at this time,” and critics blaming dispersants for the plumes had “no information” to stand on. NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco, a respected oceanographer when President Obama tapped her to lead the agency, insists there are no plumes, only “anomalies”—though last week she acknowledged the possibility of oil beneath the surface.

Now it is increasingly clear that the initial reports of undersea oil were right, that life-giving oxygen in the water column is indeed being depleted, and that unless the laws of chemistry have been repealed, dispersants are likely worsening the tentacles of undersea crude. What might have been just another oil spill—albeit a bad one—has been transformed into something unprecedented. Even if the containment dome lowered into place late last week continues to siphon off some of the leaking crude, the Deepwater Horizon disaster will enter the record books not for how much but for where: an enormous release of crude oil not only onto vulnerable shorelines and fragile marshes but into the largely unexplored depths of the sea. The consequences for the delicate balance of existence in the vulnerable ecosystems of the gulf, and for the vast cycles of nature that sustain life there and beyond, are as incalculable as they are potentially devastating.
(7 June 2010)
sent in by EB reader westexas -KS



Gulf Gusher and the Price of Oil and Gasoline

Jan Lundberg, Culture Change
Culture Change was asked about the impact from the Gulf oil gusher on the price of gasoline in 6 months, 12 months and 18 months from now:
It might be an interesting question for debate, with many possible opinions. There are too many variables to make forecasts with any certainty, so prognosticators would have to exclude all but one or two factors. There are these non-textbook questions: Will hurricanes wreak havoc? Will there be migration and refugees from the Gulf? Could a BP bankruptcy result, triggering broader corporate failures? The dismantling of BP or the massive downsizing and selling off of its assets are possible if criminal penalties plus anticipated fines prove as devastating for the corporation as its behavior has been for the Gulf of Mexico.

We should anticipate that any tightening of supply in the oil market (as opposed to supply in terms of crude reserves), for whatever reason, will result in higher prices. This usually results from a robust and exuberant economy (causing more oil demand), getting us to around $4 a gallon for gasoline for a time, possibly. Or, we can imagine prices going down due to a shrinking economy. With the latest news on unemployment, economic contraction seems more likely. If there's a stable floor to this recession we could imagine $2 per gallon gasoline for a time.

This all assumes that the nation continues to stupidly subsidize low oil and gasoline prices, and that no reasonable carbon tax is added to our artificially low oil & refined product prices. We can assume that the government will print yet more money to throw at (1) environmental clean up of the oil gusher, as BP will eventually fail utterly to measure up, and (2) Gulf coast unemployment and subsequent bankruptcies. There may be major strife there, worse than from Katrina. Real solutions will be avoided at all costs: the gov't and corporate media will continue to shun both car-free living and minimizing car dependence. My mitigation proposal, for cutting back on oil production and consumption so as to offset the Gulf pollution, is not taking off (see The Only Answer for Counteracting the Gulf Oil Gusher).

I am not certain the Gulf oil disaster will directly affect oil prices, in accordance with any particular time line, but we do know this event is historic, so effects will be life-altering albeit indirect.

Recalling our steep climb up Hubbert's peak, we witnessed oil and gasoline prices rise with economic and population growth. When there's a spike of skyrocketing prices due to shortage, depending upon severity it may be either a blip or a turning point. If the latter, this will be the final, massive shortage (due perhaps to a disruption in the Persian Gulf) triggering full-blown petrocollapse. What will happen is this: after a few days of people not getting to their jobs by car, and trucks not pulling into businesses (including supermarkets) we will see panic, confusion and total economic collapse. Then as the consumer lifestyle evaporates, and petroleum and its infrastructure are abandoned, the price of oil and gasoline will become meaningless. I don't see a "recovery" or endless supply-demand cycle coming into play after the next (and last) major shortage. Therefore, extremely low prices will not stimulate demand as before

The main reason for this is that the oil industry has never shrunk in an orderly fashion, or otherwise, nor can it easily become a small version of itself or cater to a rapidly vanishing market. Population drop-off from lack of petroleum-grown/delivered/preserved/cooked food will ensure no return to "growth" or major consumption of oil again. A new culture based on subsistence and cooperation will take hold in the most industrialized countries, especially the hyper-petrolized U.S. Older, traditional cultures won't see much change. They are there now for us, as I recently discovered in Bolivia. There, less than a fifth of the population is dependent on petroleum and significant levels of imported stuffs. Bolivians, though low-income, enjoy more intimacy and free time.

My overall answer to the question of the Gulf gusher's impact on oil and gasoline prices is: when we're thinking about oil prices or the economy, we have to look at the big picture and anticipate major, sudden change. The U.S. is ready for only expansionist growth, and that has become untenable now that peak oil has likely hit...
(7 June 2010)


Imagining Life Without Oil, and Being Ready

John Leland, New York Times
As oil continued to pour into the Gulf of Mexico on a recent Saturday, Jennifer Wilkerson spent three hours on the phone talking about life after petroleum.

For Mrs. Wilkerson, 33, a moderate Democrat from Oakton, Va., who designs computer interfaces, the spill reinforced what she had been obsessing over for more than a year — that oil use was outstripping the world’s supply. She worried about what would come after: maybe food shortages, a collapse of the economy, a breakdown of civil order. Her call was part of a telephone course about how to live through it all.

In bleak times, there is a boom in doom.

Americans have long been fascinated by disaster scenarios, from the population explosion to the cold war to global warming. These days the doomers, as Mrs. Wilkerson jokingly calls herself and likeminded others, have a new focus: peak oil. They argue that oil supplies peaked as early as 2008 and will decline rapidly, taking the economy with them.

Located somewhere between the environmental movement and the bunkered survivalists, the peak oil crowd is small but growing, reaching from health food stores to Congress, where a Democrat and a Republican formed a Congressional Peak Oil Caucus.

And they have been resourceful, sharing the concerns of other “collapsitarians,” including global debt and climate change — both caused by overuse of diminishing oil supplies, they maintain...
(5 June 2010)
This article has caused a lot of comment, from the Transition camp and other quarters. Carolyn Baker sent in this response by one of the students on the Postpeakliving course that is referred to in the article here. -KS


Post peak oil stress map

Stuart Staniford, early warning
The map above is a first rough cut at where the stress of peak oil (or any oil shock) is likely to be greatest. It comes from taking county level data from the Census Quick Facts and extracting two variables: the average travel time to work (from the 2000 census), and the median household income (from 2008 data). The idea is that if average travel time is long, that probably indicates that people in that county need a lot of oil to run their cars. On the other hand, if income is low, they are probably going to have more trouble paying for that oil. So I divided the travel time by median income, and then rescaled that index by its own average and standard deviation to produce a map of where the problems are likely to be greatest.

This is a fairly rough methodology. In particular:
It's average, county-level, data, so this may miss a lot of neighborhood level details
It ignores other calls on people's income (like housing costs)
It assumes that work travel time is a decent indicator of overall household oil need (in particular, it misses north-eastern dependence on heating oil).
Still, the broad geographical results are fairly interesting, I think. It seems likely to be a robust result that the south-east of the country is the worst affected region, and since this is the main geographical base of the modern Republican party, that probably has interesting political implications. Drill, baby, drill...
(3 June 2010)

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