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A coming world that’s ‘a whole lot smaller’ (Jeff Rubin’s new book)

David Parkinson, Globe and Mail
Until two months ago, Jeff Rubin was the audacious chief economist and chief strategist at CIBC World Markets, a high-profile pulpit from which he preached his unconventional and occasionally controversial views on economic matters for nearly two decades.

His blunt talk and bold predictions didn’t always win him friends, but his penchant for being right, more often than not, had won him international respect – and made him CIBC’s most public star.

But when he informed his employer that he had already written and was about to publish Why Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller – a new book on the socioeconomic ramifications of rising energy prices, which hits bookstores today – he says his bosses weren’t happy, with either the surprise or the subject matter.

… “I never asked for permission and they never gave it,” Mr. Rubin said in a recent interview. “I had a choice. I could continue doing a job that I thought I had been reasonably successful at for the past 20 years, or I could publish my book. For me, it was a no-brainer,” he said.

So what was so important that walking away from a two-decade career at CIBC was a “no-brainer”?

Only his prophecy of how ever-higher energy costs will fundamentally change the way each and every one of us live our day-to-day lives – from where we work to what we eat to where we lay down our heads at night, and everything in between.

… But unlike many previous peak oil books, which typically don’t get much past “we’re in big trouble,” Mr. Rubin’s conclusions are refreshingly optimistic. His world of the oil-starved future, at least for Western societies, looks a lot like the bygone years of our fond memory, where people work and vacation nearer to home, eat locally grown foods and buy locally produced goods, and suburban sprawl is replaced by revitalized cities.

“I think it will really restructure the economy in ways that people haven’t even begun to imagine,” he said. “But I think, ironically, it’s going to be a return to the past … in terms of the re-emergence of local economies.”
(19 May 2009)
More about Rubin and related ideas at Globe and Mail: Energy, carbon taxes and the winds of change

Raymond James: Don’t ‘Underestimate’ Oil’s Coming 1980s-Style Down Cycle

Bill Paul, Energy Tech Stocks
Only a week after declaring that global oil production has “peaked,” investment firm Raymond James & Associates is warning investors that the oil industry “may be in the early stages of a multi-year down cycle.”

In a May 4 research note, the advisory firm said it believes “mankind better get ready to live in a peak oil world,” because it appears global oil production topped out in the first quarter of 2008.

Apparently, however, the world won’t be starved for oil anytime soon. In a May 11 research note, Raymond James said it looks like the oil industry’s immediate future will be a severe down cycle that will look “eerily similar to the early 1980s,” which was when the world was awash with oil, causing prices to plunge and drilling activity to stall.

While seemingly contradictory, the Raymond James position makes sense in that, just as the 1980s oil glut dried up drilling activity, eventually causing a worldwide scarcity of oil, today’s “eerily similar” glut can be expected to lead to shortages down the road, as global demand keeps rising in the face of peak production limitations. The only caveat would add is that the next oil crisis may be preventable if enough plug-in electric hybrid vehicles are on the road, although few experts believe there will be enough time for that to happen.
(17 May 2009)

Why Oil Shortages May Cause Price Decreases, Rather than Increases

Gail Tverberg, The Oil Drum
A lot of people think peak oil is no longer a problem because prices are no longer in the stratosphere. It seems to me that standard economic models start breaking down when production for a commodity like oil starts becoming difficult to expand and there are no good substitutes. We have been taught:

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As long as production of oil can be expanded easily, relationship (1) holds. But once oil production can no longer be easily expanded, the relationship doesn’t work. Relationship (2) would work, if there were a good, cheap, easily expanded substitute for oil, but there really isn’t, so it doesn’t hold either.

When these relationships don’t hold, there are several other relationships that become more important. It seems to me that these relationships help explain our current price situation.
(18 May 2009)

The Race to Harness Hydrates

Yasmine Ryan, New York Time
Hydrates have long been a costly and dangerous nuisance to the natural gas and oil industries, crystals with an irritating tendency to build up in pipelines deep under the sea or in very cold regions, completely blocking any flow.

But lately they have started to be seen in a fresh light, as a new frontier in energy exploitation. Estimates of global natural gas hydrate reservoirs remain vague, but the U.S. Department of Energy says on its Web site that the amount of energy held in methane hydrate form is “immense, possibly exceeding the entire combined energy content of all other known fossil fuels.”

… Some scientists, including Professor Ryo Matsumoto of the University of Tokyo and James P. Kennett, a professor of earth sciences of the University of California, Santa Barbara, argue that global warming could set off the release of methane clathrates even without direct human intervention, which would in turn push climate change into hyper acceleration.

… Though the focus of the study was how gas hydrates react to climate change and not to human intervention, Mr. Schaefer said that it suggested that drilling or heating up surrounding areas to melt hydrates was “unlikely” to lead to a catastrophic release of methane and that any impact was “likely to be localized.”

This does not exclude other serious risks like submarine landslides, earthquakes and tsunamis.

“We have to be very careful,” Dr. Savelli said.
(18 May 2009)
Whenever I read an enthusiastic article about methyl hydrates, I think of Dr. Strangelove. Why am I not reassured to learn that that “drilling or heating up surrounding areas to melt hydrates was ‘unlikely’ to lead to a catastrophic release of methane.”?