Energy – April 8

April 8, 2012

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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage.

Bloomington city councilman: Peak oil already wreaking economic disaster

Linda Greene, The Bloomington Alternative (Indiana)
Honest reckoning needed for transition to future

Peak oil production is at a crisis point but also is an opportunity to better the planet, Bloomington City Councilman David Rollo said in a talk, “Evidence and Consequences of Peak Oil,” sponsored by Green Drinks at the Upland Brewery banquet hall on March 28.

Rollo is well-qualified to speak on the subject. A Bloomington City Council member, he has sought to bring sustainability policies to local government in his nine years in office. His policy initiatives include creation of the Bloomington Commission on Sustainability in 2005, a green building ordinance in ’09 and the Platinum Bicycle Task Force in ’11, which was created by a council resolution co-sponsored by Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Andy Ruff and Rollo.

Rollo was the author of the council resolution supporting the Kyoto Protocol and reduction in the community’s greenhouse gas emissions in ’05 and of a council resolution recognizing world peak oil production in ’06. Bloomington was the fourth U.S. city to do so. He is also responsible for creation of the Bloomington Peak Oil Task Force by resolution in ’07 to study the problem and recommend mitigation and adaptation strategies. The task force produced the report Redefining Prosperity: Energy Descent and Community Resilience, which the city council adopted as an advisory document in ’09. It has been used as a model policy action plan by other cities and by the German military.

Rollo recently left a 30-year career in biology research at IU to become a full-time farmer at Stranger’s Hill Organics.
(7 April 2012)

The Myth of Peak Oil

George Wuerthner, Counterpunch
The Real Problem is Not Too Little Oil, But Too Much

Each time there is a short-term shortage of oil or the price begins to rise, there is talk of running out of affordable oil, an idea captured by the concept of Peak Oil. Peak Oil is the theoretical point when the maximum rate of oil production is reached and after that time enters into a terminal decline. There is a lot of debate surrounding the Peak Oil theory, with some observers predicting rapid decline in oil production with serious implications for our entire economy and society.

… Another point of confusion in the debate over the ultimate availability of oil and gas supplies is the question of “unconventional” fossil fuel sources like tar sands, oil shales, heavy oils, and shale oil. Hubbert did not include these other energy types in his estimates and many of the proponents of Peak Oil today tend to ignore these hydro-carbon sources. However, since there is vastly more oil (and gas) found in these “unconventional” sources compared to “conventional” crude oil and traditional gas sources, the exclusion of them from any policy debate over oil’s demise leads to serious misrepresentation of our ultimate fossil fuel availability.

As Hubbert wrote in his paper, “if we knew the quantity (of some resource) initially present, we could draw a family of possible production curves, all of which would exhibit the common property of beginning and ending at zero, and encompassing an area equal to or less than the initial quantity.” In theory, Hubbert’s basic concept is sound. As a way of thinking about and approaching the issue of declining finite resources, Hubbert was a pioneer. But that does not mean his predictions were accurate.

The problem for anyone trying to predict future resource availability is discerning the initial starting amount of a resource such as oil when one cannot readily see or gauge accurately the resource. This lack of transparency presents huge opportunities for error, in particular, erring on the side of under estimation of the total resource. And time has consistently shown that under estimation of total resource is the most common error, and as we shall see this is exactly the error that Hubbert made with regards to his estimates of our remaining oil and gas reserves. Hubbert can be forgiven because new technology can make previously unavailable resources accessible, even less expensive to exploit.

… Rather than running out of oil and/or gas any time soon, I think the bigger danger is that we have more than enough oil and other fossil fuel energy resources to sustain us for quite a few decades if not centuries. Any efficiency and/or conservation of energy, combined with some replacement of fossil fuel energy with renewables than these finite resources, will extend hydrocarbon resources quite a few additional decades.

The real problem for the planet and human society is not the imminent danger of running out of hydrocarbon fuels, but that an abundance of these energy sources will permit population and economic growth that will gradually diminish the planet’s biodiversity, degrade ecosystems, and disrupt global climate and other systems.
(March 29, 2012)
I couldn’t find any other writings by Mr. Wuerthner on energy issues. He seems to be mostly a writer on ecology and the outdoors. One of his websites, Living with Wolves, gives this biographical information:

Mr. Wuerthner is an ecologist, writer and photographer who also teaches field ecology classes, photo workshops and guides natural history tours through his company, Raventrails.

George has researched and written a number of books on mountain ranges, wilderness areas and parks, exploring hundreds of ranges from New Mexico to Alaska.


We’re Not Going to Run Out of Oil Based Fertilizer

Tim Worstall, Forbes
I had thought that worries over the supplies of oil based fertilizers (or fertilisers) were confined to the kookier ends of the Peak Oil conspirators along with the weirder part of the environmental movement. Sadly, I find that it has invaded the editorials of seemingly respectable newspapers like London’s The Guardian. The point being of course that as we don’t use oil based fertilisers, have never used oil based fertilisers, we’re most unlikely to ever run out of oil based fertilisers.

… we don’t actually make fertiliser out of oil. We take methane (the majority part of natural gas) and use the CH4 to fix the nitrogen (N) from the air to make ammonia (NH3) which is then the precursor for the various fertilisers themselves like ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) say.

We don’t even use oil to provide the energy (and it is an energy intensive process) for this.
(7 April 2012)
Tim Worstall is right that it is natual gas that is the feedstock for nitrogen fertilizers, not petroleum. Most peak oil writers are aware of this, but sometimes non-specialists become confused. Mr. Worstall would like to use this one error by the Guardoan to assure us that everything is all right and we can go back to sleep. However, as Wikipedia points out: “3–5% of world natural gas production is consumed in the Haber process (~1–2% of the world’s annual energy supply)” — that’s a lot! (The Haber process is the means by which natural gas is converted to nitrogen fertilizer.)

At the moment we are experienced a glut of natural gas, but how long the supplies will be abundant, is an open question. In addition, industrial agriculture is dependent not only on nitrogen fertilizer, but also on potassium and phosphorus. Not to mention cheap oil and water. A continuing supply of these is problematic as we’ve been documenting in Energy Bulletin.


Petroleum institute’s numbers on oil policy a matter of dispute

Steven Mufson, Washington Post
“Congressman, if I can, I don’t want to take your time,” American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard said in testimony March 7 at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, “but there’s a — an experience we have in July of 2008 that . . . we ought to go back and look closely at.”

That July, Gerard said, the price of oil fell abruptly after President George W. Bush announced he would allow drilling in parts of the Outer Continental Shelf that for decades had been off-limits.

… The tale was an indictment of President Obama. But there’s one hitch, say oil experts. It doesn’t hold together.

“We had an oil price bubble in 2008,” says Fadel Gheit, oil analyst with Oppenheimer & Co. “Prices collapsed when they became unsustainable by speculation.”

The Friday before Bush lifted the presidential moratorium his father first imposed on drilling off the U.S. Pacific and Atlantic coasts, crude oil hit an all-time — and oil analysts say unsustainable — high of $147.

The dizzyingly high price, and fears of an economic slowdown, triggered a wave of selling by oil investors or speculators, in part because of margin calls. The prices of equities as well as commodities such as corn and aluminum, unrelated to offshore drilling, also fell, reinforcing the argument that oil’s fall was a symptom of broader market conditions.
(6 April 2012)

Jack Gerard, the force majeure behind Big Oil

Steven Mufson, Washington Post
Ask oil lobbyists, oil executives, and former employees and board members of the American Petroleum Institute how they describe API President Jack N. Gerard, and one thing they don’t say is soft. One calls him a “hard-nosed guy.” Another says he is “a political animal” who “loves a fight.” Yet another dubs him “Voldemort.”

And those are people who consider themselves supporters of the oil industry.

If Gerard loves a fight, he must be a happy man. Energy is one of this year’s biggest and most divisive political issues. Drilling. Fracking. Tax breaks. Soaring gasoline prices. Even pipeline permits have become front-page news.
(7 April 2012)
I’m getting to like this Steven Mustafson (author of this and the previous article)! There are lots of great energy stories for a wide-awake journalist, and he’s pickin up on them. -BA

Tags: Education, Energy Infrastructure, Fossil Fuels, Industry, Natural Gas, Oil