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Book Review: The Impending World Energy Mess

Robert Rapier, Consumer Energy Report
I actually had low expectations for The Impending World Energy Mess by Robert L. Hirsch, Roger H. Bezdek, and Robert M. Wendling. Not because I thought Robert Hirsch and company would put out a sub-par book, but rather I have read so many peak oil books that I expected I would be covering entirely familiar ground. I was quite pleasantly surprised.

The first few sections of the book were indeed very basic for those who are familiar with resource depletion (e.g., what oil is, what peak oil is). Much of the material just reinforces what people familiar with peak oil already know. But it puts all the information together in one place, and it does so in a concise fashion.

I felt the book became much more interesting when they started to discuss “How is the oil debacle likely to unfold?” This is where I began to find a lot of value in the book for me personally. Future scenarios were very well thought-out, and pros and cons were given for them. The authors delve pretty deeply into potential mitigation pathways. For instance, I have often thought about how people will cope as gasoline prices head higher. One of the possible options is that gas will be rationed. This book takes scenarios like that a step further. First, it makes a strong argument that it is a no-brainer that gasoline will be rationed, and then goes into several well thought-out options of how that might be accomplished.


I think they should have omitted the section on global warming. They start out by indicating that they are agnostic on global warming, but then proceed to attack the integrity of the science of global warming. I don’t want to imply that such arguments are inappropriate; indeed I agree with them that the global warming debate has taken on many characteristics of religious debates.

But by immersing themselves in this debate – particularly from the skeptical side – they will immediately lose credibility with a number of people who are convinced of the science of global warming. In my view, that topic is separate from the topic of oil depletion and the necessary mitigation efforts, and will unnecessarily taint their arguments in the eyes of some readers. …


This is a good book for those new to the topic of peak oil, and for those who are involved in mitigation efforts — particularly government leaders — this book will be of great value. I don’t think the section on global warming added anything to the book; in fact many people will be turned off by the book after they read that section. But overall the book gets high marks for advancing the conversation further into the implications of specific mitigation pathways, and really thinking through how the future may unfold.
(4 December 2010)

Crude Oil Futures Increase to 25-Month High in New York as Dollar Tumbles

Margot Habiby and Mark Shenk, Bloomberg
Crude oil rose to the highest level in 25 months as the dollar tumbled, boosting the appeal of commodities as an alternative investment.

Oil jumped 1.4 percent as the Dollar Index dropped to the lowest level since Nov. 23 after U.S. employers added fewer jobs than forecast in November. The unemployment rate unexpectedly increased. Futures for delivery from 2013 through 2018 fell below the current month’s price.

“The rally is due to a much lower dollar,” said Hamza Khan, an analyst with Schork Group Inc., a consulting company in Villanova, Pennsylvania. “This is not based on fundamentals.”
(3 December 2010)

Coal and Cancun

Bill Sweet, IEEE Spectrum
To first approximation, the political struggle over climate policy can be reduced to the future of coal. The Cancun climate talks are going nowhere because of a stalemate between the United States and China, which each account for about a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. China gets about three quarters of it electricity from coal, the United States close to half, and neither country is willing to confront its coal industry head-on.

Countries like the UK and Germany, which have been systematically winding down their coal industries, have cut their greenhouse gas emissions sharply and are inclined to stick with the Kyoto formula–first the industrial countries reduce their emissions, then the developing countries. That principle of “differentiated responsibilities” is considered sacrosanct in the Third World. But the United States wants the fastest developing countries, China in particular, to join the industrial in emissions cuts.

That in essence is why Cancun is deadlocked, just as Copenhagen was this time last year.

So if it’s a question globally of whether to systematically reduce carbon emissions or to reduce reliance on coal, Big Coal is winning the Big Political Battle.

… Now similar claims are being made about coal [as have been made about oil in the peak oil argument]. Writing in a recent issue of Nature, Richard Heinberg and David Fridley argue that economically recoverable reserves in the major producing countries may be much lower than the conventional wisdom has had it, and that China’s coal production could peak as soon a 2015. If China’s imports continue to grow at current rates, the country will be buying the equivalent of total Asia-Pacific coal exports. Two years ago, the world’s entire seaborne trade in coal amounted to barely more than a fifth of what China alone consumes annually.

Hubbert correctly foresaw that U.S. oil production would peak in the early 1970s. In terms of energy content, U.S. coal production peaked at the end of the 1990s, Heinberg and Firdley note.
(4 December 2010)

U.K. Natural Gas – An Early December 2010 Status Report

Rune Likvern, The Oil Drum
The early arrival of unseasonal cold weather in the U.K. has increased demand for natural gas for heating which has called for heavy withdrawals of natural gas from storage and resulted in headlines like Could Britain’s gas stocks run out this winter?.

In this post I will present some recent developments in the gas supply statistics for the U.K.

… As of now it is of course impossible to forecast if present U.K. natural gas in storage will be adequate throughout this heating season. Gas demand and also storage withdrawals are very much influenced by weather and plans for later this winter now call for more use of coal and less natural gas for electricity generation.
(3 December 2010)