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Peak oil - Apr 30

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Peak oil isn’t dead: An interview with Chris Nelder

Brad Plumer, Washington Post
Warnings about “peak oil” have been with us since the OPEC crisis in the 1970s. At some point, the experts said, the world would hit a limit on how much oil could be extracted from the ground. Production would then drop, prices would soar, chaos would ensue. But after a worrisome series of price spikes starting in 2007, oil triumphalism is once again ascendant.

Not everyone’s convinced, however, that oil is really on the verge of a new boom. Energy analyst Chris Nelder, for one, has spent a lot of time scrutinizing the claims of the oil triumphalists. Our newfound oil resources, he argues, aren’t nearly as promising as they first appear. And peak oil is still as relevant as ever.

I talked to Nelder by phone this week. A lightly edited transcript follows.

BP: So back in 2005, plenty of analysts were suggesting that the world would soon hit a ceiling in annual oil production. How has that panned out?

CN: The predictions weren’t monolithic. But what everyone agreed on was that at some point in the near future, maybe five or 10 or 15 years away, the rate of oil production would stop growing. Some said we’d hit an absolute peak in a specific year. Others said we’d reach a “bumpy plateau” that might be five or 10 years long. But everyone agreed that sometime after 2005, within 10 or 15 years, global oil production would stop growing.

And that’s exactly what happened. The growth in conventional oil production ended in 2004, and we’ve been on a bumpy plateau ever since...
(13 April 2013)


What If We Never Run Out of Oil?

Charles C. Mann, The Atlantic
As the great research ship Chikyu left Shimizu in January to mine the explosive ice beneath the Philippine Sea, chances are good that not one of the scientists aboard realized they might be closing the door on Winston Churchill’s world. Their lack of knowledge is unsurprising; beyond the ranks of petroleum-industry historians, Churchill’s outsize role in the history of energy is insufficiently appreciated.

Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911. With characteristic vigor and verve, he set about modernizing the Royal Navy, jewel of the empire. The revamped fleet, he proclaimed, should be fueled with oil, rather than coal—a decision that continues to reverberate in the present. Burning a pound of fuel oil produces about twice as much energy as burning a pound of coal. Because of this greater energy density, oil could push ships faster and farther than coal could.

Churchill’s proposal led to emphatic dispute. The United Kingdom had lots of coal but next to no oil. At the time, the United States produced almost two-thirds of the world’s petroleum; Russia produced another fifth. Both were allies of Great Britain. Nonetheless, Whitehall was uneasy about the prospect of the Navy’s falling under the thumb of foreign entities, even if friendly. The solution, Churchill told Parliament in 1913, was for Britons to become “the owners, or at any rate, the controllers at the source of at least a proportion of the supply of natural oil which we require.” ...

Petroleum has wreaked all kinds of social and environmental havoc, but a steady supply of oil and gas remains just as central to the world’s economic well-being as it was in Churchill’s day. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the United States has experienced 11 recessions since the end of the Second World War. All but one were associated with spikes in energy costs—specifically, abrupt jumps in the price of oil.

Understanding this dependence, the oil industry was shaken by a speech in 1956 by M. King Hubbert, a prominent geophysicist at Shell Oil. When a company moves into a field, it grabs the easy, cheap oil first. Tapping the rest gets progressively more difficult and expensive. Eventually, Hubbert observed, conditions get so tough that production levels off—it peaks...
(24 April 2013)
This article mentions Post Carbon Institute's shalebubble.org work, (citing it as a minority view) - still good to see it being picked up in the mainstream. - SO


‘Peak Fossil Fuels’ Is Closer Than You Think: BNEF

Tom Randall, Bloomberg
Every time an iPhone is charged or an episode of "Mad Men" plays on a television, puffs of vaporized carbon join the atmosphere, products of power-plant combustion. And every year the world demands more. That era may be nearing an end, as the world approaches “peak fossil fuels,” a phrased used by Bloomberg New Energy Finance founder Michael Liebreich at the group’s annual conference.

The concept of “peak oil” -- that world oil production will plateau and decline -- was popularized by a Shell Oil geologist named M. King Hubbert, who predicted in 1956 that U.S. oil production would max out in the early 1970s and gradually decline. Globally, the peak oil hypothesis has been consistently undermined by new extraction techniques: deep-water drilling, tar-sands extraction and most recently the fracking boom. The world now has enough of these fuels to last hundreds of years...
(24 April 2013)

Image credit: Offshore oil rig at sunset - arbyreed/flickr

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