US Army: Peak Oil and the Army’s future

March 12, 2006

“The days of inexpensive, convenient, abundant energy sources are quickly drawing to a close,” according to a recently released US Army strategic report. The report posits that a peak in global oil production looks likely to be imminent, with wide reaching implications for the US Army and society in general.

The report was sent to Energy Bulletin by a reader, and does not appear to be available elsewhere on the internet. However it is marked as unclassified and approved for public release.

[ UPDATE: Since we wrote those words several hours ago we’ve been informed that a reference to the document now appears on a Google search, including a link to the full PDF on a .mil server. “Somebody must be watching you guys!” writes reader SG. See notes below. -AF]

The report, Energy Trends and Their Implications for U.S. Army Installations (PDF &ndash 1.2mb), was conducted by the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is dated September 2005.

Author Eileen Westervelt, PE, CEM, is a mechanical engineer at the Engineer Research and Development Center (US Army Corps of Engineers) in Champaign, Ill. Author Donald Fournier is a senior research specialist at the University of Illinois’ Building Research Council and has worked with the Corps in the past.

Westervelt and Fournier give special credence to the work of independent energy experts, such as the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO) and the Oil Depletion Analysis Center (ODAC). They seem to place very little credibility on the more optimistic oil production forecasts of the international energy agencies. They reproduce ASPO graphs and quote ASPO member Jean Laherrere on why the US Geological Survey (USGS) future oil availability estimates are clearly overly optimistic:

The USGS estimate implies a five-fold increase in discovery rate and reserve addition, for which no evidence is presented. Such an improvement in performance is in fact utterly implausible, given the great technological achievements of the industry over the past twenty years, the worldwide search, and the deliberate effort to find the largest remaining prospects.

The authors warn that in order to sustain its mission, “the Army must insulate itself from the economic and logistical energy-related problems coming in the near to mid future. This requires a transition to modern, secure, and efficient energy systems, and to building technologies that are safe and environmental friendly.” The best energy options they conclude are “energy efficiency and renewable sources.” However, “currently, there is no viable substitute for petroleum.”

They do not expect that any transition will be easy: “energy consumption is indispensable to our standard of living and a necessity for the Army to carry out its mission. However, current trends are not sustainable. The impact of excessive, unsustainable energy consumption may undermine the very culture and activities it supports. There is no perfect energy source; all are used at a cost.”

The report includes what looks like a solid overview of the pros and cons of all major renewable and non-renewable energy options. They consider problems associated with hydrogen, shale oil, biofuels and tar sands. On nuclear energy they note that “our current throw-away nuclear cycle uses up the world reserve of low-cost uranium in about 20 years.” They hold more hope for certain solar technologies and wind turbines, however, “renewables tend to be a more local or regional commodity and except for a few instances, not necessarily a global resource that is traded between nations.”

Overall this is surprisingly green sounding advice, and one might think out of left field for one of the most environmentally destructive and energy consuming institutions on the planet. And yet the report does not seem to be at odds with the Army’s new Energy Strategy which sets out five major initiatives:

  1. Eliminate energy waste in existing facilities
  2. Increase energy efficiency in new construction and renovations
  3. Reduce dependence on fossil fuels
  4. Conserve water resources
  5. Improve energy security


Westervelt and Fournier assert that changes must be made with urgency. However they express concerns that “we have a large and robust energy system with tremendous inertia, both from a policy perspective and a great resistance to change.” In light of this, “the Army needs to present its perspective to higher authorities and be prepared to proceed regardless of the national measures that are taken.”

Westervelt and Fournier suggest “it is time to think strategically about energy and how the Army
should respond to the global and national energy picture. A path of enlightened self-interest is encouraged.” As we approach Peak Oil, what is ecologically sound and what is perceived to be to in an institution’s practical benefit might tend to converge, at least in some respects – even those of an institution such as the US Army.


Some extended quotations from the document:

Energy Implications for Army Installations

The days of inexpensive, convenient, abundant energy sources are quickly drawing to a close. Domestic natural gas production peaked in 1973. The proved domestic reserve lifetime for natural gas at current consumption rates is about 8.4 yrs. The proved world reserve lifetime for natural gas is about 40 years, but will follow a traditional rise to a peak and then a rapid decline. Domestic oil production peaked in 1970 and continues to decline. Proved domestic reserve lifetime for oil is about 3.4 yrs. World oil production is at or near its peak and current world demand exceeds the supply. Saudi Arabia is considered the bellwether nation for oil production and has not increased production since April 2003. After peak production, supply no longer meets demand, prices and competition increase. World proved reserve lifetime for oil is about 41 years, most of this at a declining availability. Our current throw-away nuclear cycle will consume the world reserve of low-cost uranium in about 20 years. Unless we dramatically change our consumption practices, the Earth’s finite resources of petroleum and natural gas will become depleted in this century. Coal supplies may last into the next century depending on technology and consumption trends as it starts to replace oil and natural gas.

We must act now to develop the technology and infrastructure necessary to transition to other energy sources. Policy changes, leap ahead technology breakthroughs, cultural changes, and significant investment is requisite for this new energy future. Time is essential to enact these changes. The process should begin now.

Our best options for meeting future energy requirements are energy efficiency and renewable sources. Energy efficiency is the least expensive, most readily available, and environmentally friendly way to stretch our current energy supplies. … For efficiency and renewables, the intangible and hard to quantify benefits — such as reduced pollution and increased security — yield indisputable economic value.

Many of the issues in the energy arena are outside the control of the Army. Several actions are in the purview of the national government to foster the ability of all groups, including the Army, to optimize their natural resource management. The Army needs to present its perspective to higher authorities and be prepared to proceed regardless of the national measures that are taken.


Historically, no other energy source equals oil’s intrinsic qualities of extractability, transportability, versatility, and cost. The qualities that enabled oil to take over from coal as the front-line energy source for the industrialized world in the middle of the 20th century are as relevant today as they were then. Oil’s many advantages provide 1.3 to 2.45 times more economic value per MBtu than coal (Gever, Kaufman et al. 1991). Currently, there is no viable substitute for petroleum.

In summary, the outlook for petroleum is not good. This especially applies to conventional oil, which has been the lowest cost resource. Production peaks for non-OPEC conventional oil are at hand; many nations have already past their peak, or are now producing at peak capacity.

Conventional Oil Resources

In general, all nonrenewable resources follow a natural supply curve. Production increases rapidly, slows, reaches a peak, and then declines (at a rapid pace, similar to its initial increase). The major question for petroleum is not whether production will peak, but when. There are many estimates of recoverable petroleum reserves giving rise to many estimates of when peak oil will occur and how high the peak will be. A careful review of all the estimates leads to the conclusion that world oil production may peak within a few short years, after which it will decline (Campbell and Laherrere 1998; Deffeyes 2001; Laherrere 2003). Once peak oil occurs, then the historic patterns of world oil demand and price cycles will cease.

Notes from BA

The military’s commitment to energy policy

A notice in the report says, “The findings of this report are not to be construed as an official Department of the Army position unless so designated by other authorized documents.” However, as AF notes, other U.S. Army planning documents seem to share the concern about energy supply. And as USA TODAY reports:

Spurred by a 57% increase in fuel costs, the Pentagon is speeding up its efforts to save energy and develop new sources of power. …All military bases and facilities have been ordered to cut energy use by 2% per year and pursue alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind.

The recent spate of articles about the military and energy policy bespeaks a more comprehensive outlook than either that of the Democratic or Republican parties, or most environmental organizations. For example, see:
America’s strategic imperative: a “Manhattan Project” for energy (Joint Forces Quarterly)
Toward a Long-Range Energy Security Policy – Parameters (US Army War College).

Energy efficiency

The report only surveys energy sources, and does not cover efficiency or conservation. Nonetheless, the report notes that energy efficiency is “the cheapest, fastest, cleanest source of new energy.” (p.58). In other publications, the authors do cover energy efficiency in detail, for example in A Candidate Army Energy and Water Management Strategy (118 pages, PDF &ndash 2mb).

Many of the projects pursued by author Fournier are related to sustainability and energy efficiency (also see article in Green Biz).

Online accessibility

The fact that the document does not seem to be online is puzzling. Searching with Google yielded no results. According to a note on page 4 of the report, the report should be available at, a URL which seems to be obsolete or inaccessible.

Possibility for an alliance

I’m more sanguine about the role of the military than AF. Within the military and intelligence communities, there seems to be a lack of enthusiasm for unproductive resource wars. See the talks by Ex-CIA directors James R. Schlesinger and James Woolsey as well as the work of Gal Luft at the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS).

Is the unlikely alliance described in the following article more widely possible?

You wouldn’t have thought it possible: a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency drawing a standing ovation from a room full of left-leaning environmentalists right here in Eugene.

But that’s exactly what happened at the University of Oregon’s Public Interest Environmental Law Conference Saturday afternoon as R. James Woolsey – the nation’s chief “spook” under President Bill Clinton from 1993-1995 – spoke passionately about the need to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.

“There is a moral dimension to this,” Woolsey said. “We should be good custodians of the Earth.

And if that means creating an unlikely alliance between national security hawks, American farmers, Christian evangelicals, liberal do-gooders and tree-hugging environmentalists, Woolsey said, that’s just fine with him.

“All these groups are starting to come around on this set of issues,” he said…

“Speaker inspires no-oil thinking” in the Eugene Register Guard, March 5, 2006.

Tags: Electricity, Fossil Fuels, Geopolitics & Military, Natural Gas, Oil, Renewable Energy