Tar sands, oil shale, and heavy oil: Why the conventional wisdom about unconventional oil is likely to be wrong

In the old days, that is before 2010, the oil industry used to regale the public with tales of plenty that revolved around what is commonly called "conventional oil." Then in its 2010 World Energy Outlook, the International Energy Agency announced that the peak in the rate of production of conventional oil had already arrived, probably in 2006. The agency projected that production of so-called "unconventional oil" would grow considerably over the coming decades and allow total oil production to rise. But, new unconventional oil production may not be able to make up for the decline in the rate of conventional oil production. And, rate is the key metric.

Review: Was a Time When by Sam Penny

The novel describes a future in which humans have evolved into an entirely new species, the Neu-humans. They are distinguished by their short tails, freckled appearance and super-intelligence—along with a strong tribal sensibility that compels them to tread lightly upon the planet and always make decisions rationally. The story involves an archaeological journey to the “Lands of Oregon,” from what is now northern Canada, to discover the missing link between humans and Neu-humans. The year is 3100.

Review: Petroplague by Amy Rogers

We have a brand-new entrant to the oil-eating-bug-runs-amok tradition: the self-published novel Petroplague. It’s a Crichton-esque thriller written by microbiology professor-turned author Amy Rogers, who says she aims to “blur the line between fact and fiction so well that you need a Ph.D. to figure out where one ends and the other begins.” The plot involves a batch of experimental, oil-hungry bacteria inadvertently loosed upon Los Angeles, which proceed to wreak a near biblical swath of destruction. Part ecology lesson and part cautionary tale, Petroplague is an entertaining entrée into the subject of oil depletion and its implications for society, human health and the environment.

Review: The Wealth of Nature by John Michael Greer

Having written extensively on occultism and the esoteric, and himself an adept in ritual magic, John Michael Greer is an eager student of the unexplained. Yet he’s also a sharp observer of the unexamined assumptions that people make about the physical world around them, and how these assumptions have helped land the world in its present crisis. One common presupposition is that nature is independent of the world of human economics, and thus can be treated as a disposable resource. An environmentalist and a devout follower of the druid path, Greer knows better, and he’s written several books seeking to dispel this mistaken dismissal of nature.

Das Blut der Welt (The Blood of the World)

(In German) Stefan Aust and Claus Richter have created a two part documentary on the history of oil starting with whale oil and the move from conventional oil to unconventional oil. Includes analysis on depletion and geopolitical implications.

Includes interviews with: Colin Campbell, ASPO; Fatih Birol, IEA; Matthias Bichsel, Shell, Alexander Medwedew, Deputy CEO Gazprom; Christof Rühl, Chief Economist BP; Gerhard Schröder former German Chancellor; Martin Winterkorn CEO Volkswagen Group; Dieter Zetsche, CEO Daimler AG.

Yes, refine oil sands crude right here

As soon as former premier Peter Lougheed notified the country that he thought the controversial Keystone XL pipeline was a bad deal for Alberta, the experts got all flustered and expressed their usual shock and dismay. Yet Lougheed’s declaration was elegantly simple. “We should be refining the bitumen in Alberta and we should make it public policy in the province,” he told the CBC.

Review: Life Without Oil by Steve Hallett With John Wright

“Imagining a world without oil” describes in stark detail what might happen if one day the world decided to decommission all its oil tankers, rigs, pipelines and strategic reserves. The authors, environmental scientist Steve Hallett and journalist John Wright, expect that we’d initially see sky-high prices and long lines at pumps. After a few weeks, fuel wouldn’t be had at any price and even first-world citizens would struggle to stay fed and out of the elements. This is no Hollywood doomsday scenario—it’s a levelheaded extrapolation from current trends in the fast deteriorating world energy situation. [An essay prefiguring the book originally appeared in The Washington Post.]

Review: A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed

User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization shows how our major crises share the same root causes and thus can be solved only by taking into account their complex interactions. Ahmed acknowledges that in this age of specialization it’s understandable for issues like climate change and oil depletion to be studied and discussed separately—indeed, he observes that this mode of inquiry into the causes of specific phenomena has enabled many of our greatest scientific advances. But it’s also, he argues, beginning to seem like an increasingly antiquated method, preventing experts from seeing the whole picture and the public from receiving consistent information.

The week of the game changer in oil, or was it?

This past week was supposedly the week of the game changer in the world of oil. Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables from Saudi Arabia called into question the ability of the globe’s largest oil exporter to raise production to satisfy a world increasingly thirsty for petroleum. In the United States a technique called hydraulic fracturing–which has seemingly unlocked vast natural gas resources–will now be applied to oil trapped in shale deposits. Are these two developments really the so-called game changers they are claimed to be?

Review: Prelude by Kurt Cobb

Kurt Cobb has just released a page-turner of a first novel titled Prelude, which uses a Grisham-esque tale of suspense and intrigue to educate the public about peak oil. Prelude’s main character is a young energy analyst who discovers a top-secret report shedding light on the true, precarious state of the world’s oil reserves….Allegorically named Cassie, she stands for all of the real-life Cassandras within the peak oil movement, who, like the Cassandra of Greek myth, are able to foresee disaster but so far seem cursed never to be believed.