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Peak Oil Matters

A fresh perspective on the concept of peak oil and the challenges we face

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Archive for April, 2010

A while back I did an introductory series (here, here, and here) on the importance of infrastructure and its relationship to Peak Oil.

I’ve also mentioned from time to time that China is making great strides to not only develop its economy in leaps and bounds—as others have likewise noted; but it is doing so with a recognition of the importance of a sound infrastructure to future growth. China is also moving rapidly to incorporate high-speed rail as an essential component of its plans, recognizing how vital this mode of transportation will be in the years to come. (See this post, for example.)

Yesterday, Dave Johnson from The Campaign for America’s Future offered up an absolutely terrific piece (here) comparing China’s approach (and success with) its stimulus program as compared to the one from President Obama. For the narrow-minded among us, notably those whose knee-jerk opposition to any initiatives offered by our President resulted in his ambitious plans being trimmed in order to achieve passage—those who decry “big government” and think “tax cuts” are the magic elixir for all that ails us economically (yes, I’m speaking to you on the Right)—this piece should be mandatory reading.

Our infrastructure is absolutely critical to future growth; transportation is every bit as essential; and tax cuts and less government are precisely the wrong approach (saying “no” to everything has its drawbacks, after all) as we are about to embark on an economic journey no longer fueled by cheap and easy-to-access fossil fuels. It’s time for certain quarters to expand their horizons a wee bit and take stock of the challenges that face us.

Tax cuts and less government just aren’t in the cards now.

“No” is not a solution. Denial isn’t, either. All of us need to finally recognize this.

I had hoped to get at least a couple of posts in this past week, but events quickly got away from me, sorry to say. Owing to a number of upcoming commitments and other family/household obligations that need to be attended to (including moving two daughters currently out of state and away at college), my posting schedule will be somewhat erratic between now and May 15.

I’m hoping to resume a normal schedule and to begin my series on Peak Oil implications during the week of May 16.

Thanks for your patience! Please check back regularly during these next four weeks for both updates to the schedule and for any postings merited by then-current events.

The recent disclosures by Department of Energy officials as to their expectations about future oil supply (here), though lacking the necessary media exposure they deserve, are a significant development in the struggle to inform the public of what Peak Oil will mean to all of us. Our military is the single largest consumer of petroleum-based products, and if, as has been reported elsewhere (here, for example), the Department of Defense is undertaking a concerted effort to seek alternative forms of energy to power its equipment and personnel, we all ought to be not just paying attention, but doing the same.

(The Pentagon was recognizing back in 2007 that it would have to “fundamentally transform” its approach to and use of, fossil fuel in light of rising fuel prices and a dwindling supply—conditions even more critical three years later. See a good overview here.)

An obvious dilemma materializes almost immediately: as demand slowly but surely outstrips supply in the years to come, who gets first dibs on the oil supply in the United States? If the Pentagon does nothing about seeking alternative supplies, and as our military commitments worldwide remain at the very least consistent with today’s demands, which segments of the population are going to see their ready supply of inexpensive gasoline and heating oil curtailed so that the military can maintain its heightened state of readiness? Do your daily trips to the grocery store or to pick up your kids at school a half-mile away take priority over combat readiness?

It’s reasonably safe to assume that governments and terrorist organizations not on our “favorite people” lists won’t scale back their efforts because of any concerns that we might have to cut back on the military’s oil consumption. Keeping things “fair” is not likely to factor in to any of their plans. So what happens?

It’s probably not too much of a chore for the government and military to simply decide to and do whatever is necessary to ensure an appropriate supply of fossil fuels for military and defense purposes. Everyone else will then just have to fall in line behind the Pentagon. Is anyone willing to challenge the necessity of those decisions?

I’ll ask again: So what happens then?

Deniers can talk all they want about the gazillion barrels of oil and unconventional resources (tar sands, oil shale, etc.) still underground, or discuss “undulating plateaus” of production—all of which are nothing more than disingenuous ways of stating that we no longer have a ready supply of relatively inexpensive oil. The literary embroidery does nothing to change that fact. Oil is more difficult to locate, obtain, and produce, and that means it’s more expensive—increasingly so, in case no one is noticing. It also takes much longer to bring produced oil to market. That’s all bad math when it comes to assessing the same levels of oil and gas availability for our daily consumption.

Something has to give.

It’s all fine and well to discuss the concept or theory of Peak Oil in a once-removed, generalized manner. It’s also fine and well to discuss the military and its fossil-fuel concerns. That’s all “out there” where we’ve left it to “others” to handle all of that while we’re busy driving Mikey and Janey to school before we drive to the salon and then to 3 malls and stop at the grocery store because our spouse is stuck in traffic once again on his or her 45-minute daily commute to work, and on and on it goes.

What happens when you and me and your neighbor and my brother and your co-workers and my golf buddies and your parents can no longer just hop in the car and run whatever errands move them in the moment? What happens when determinations have been made at all levels of government and industry about oil consumption and allocation?

Ration is a dirty word, and is rarely if ever spoken of. But what happens when all of a sudden we have 8% or 11% or 14% less oil and gas available to all of us from now on? What happens then?

We need to start thinking about that—about the day-to-day impact on our individual lives—of a declining and/or more expensive supply of oil and gas to fuel all that we do.

In the next week or two, I’m going to begin a lengthy series of posts devoted to exploring just how Peak Oil is going to affect us in our daily lives. I’m not going to bore or burden any of you with charts and technological explanations. There are others eminently better qualified and more knowledgeable to cover that ground. But we need to start understanding just what it means for each of us, every day, when we no longer have an easy supply of gasoline to power our cars and SUVs and motorcycles and power boats and ATV’s … when we no longer have the luxury of just jumping into our car whenever the mood moves us to run whatever errand seems necessary in the moment, and when all of the fossil-fuel-based materials and service/transportation elements that enable our society and industry to function as they do must change.

As I have taken pains to mention all along, this is not something that’s going to befall us next week or next month, but “soon” (Two years? Five?) oil and gasoline are going to be much, much more expensive, and much more difficult to come by. We’re not going to be able to successfully transition away from fossil fuel dependency in anywhere near enough time, especially if we don’t start planning and doing now. Kicking that can down the street, as we are all-too-often inclined to do with imposing challenges, is simply going to make life that much more difficult for all of us.

The time to be responsible and to act on what we know is now.

A while back I ran a post exploring Venezuela’s significance in the Peak Oil discussion, with some follow-up information here.

The always-informative Tom Whipple has now provided us all with some additional—and troubling—details about Venezuela’s energy woes, with a potentially significant impact on United States oil supply in the months ahead. Read his latest post here.

As I and others continue to point out, there are many factors that affect oil supply considerations, and Whipple’s post is a great example of how issues most of us never even think to consider can nonetheless have far-ranging influence on our economy and societal well-being.

And it’s just one example among many….The news won’t be getting any sunnier as time passes.

I came across an interesting article while I was away last week, and thought it would be worth sharing.

In an interview (here) with the French publication Le Monde (and which unfortunately already seems to have lost the attention of most),  the Energy Information Administration director of International, Economic and Greenhouse Gas division at our Department of Energy admits to at least the possibility that we may “experience a decline” of global liquid fuel production within the next four or five years.

Without acknowledging Peak Oil, which the DoE does not support, Glen Sweetnam did suggest that this potential decline in production could be the first stages of an “undulating plateau,”—leading to peak oil production (although another spokesperson did not use the term “Peak Oil”).

The government’s apparent reliance on still-“unidentified” sources of supply and unspecified “investments” to offset a gap between increasing demand and acknowledged depletion of current resources seems to be overly-optimistic, if not simply foolish. That kind of political-speak is at best disingenuous. We already have enough of this obfuscation from the Peak Oil deniers who conveniently overlook most production-related facts about whatever reserves might still lie underground or under water.

The Le Monde article also contains other information suggesting that the DoE has not only revised its forecasts, but is engaging in some delicate tiptoeing around the truth about near-term oil supply and looming energy resource problems.

If we’re this close to reaching “undulating plateaus” prior to an official recognition of an unceasing decline in oil production just a few more years down the road, then we’d better get moving on major plans to re-create our infrastructure and transportation plans, because that clock is ticking faster and louder.