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Peak Oil Matters

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


Archive for May, 2010

The environmental tragedy that continues to unfold in the Gulf of Mexico promises unimaginable consequences for years and years to come. It’s well beyond disheartening. Enough others have offered commentary on this that I won’t bore anyone with my own opinions, but it does reveal our basic quandary about energy needs, energy supplies, and our policies going forward: do we pursue more off-shore drilling and production of unconventional sources of oil no matter what the cost, or have we at last come to realize that changes must be made in our pursuit of energy supplies?

Off-shore oil is accounting for more and more of our basic production, but at what price? Is it worth it? Should we be listening to proponents who advocate off-shore/Alaskan/Arctic drilling or is it (past) time for us to seriously commit ourselves to investments and efforts in alternative energy and infrastructure?

“Drilling in Alaska and the Arctic poses, if anything, even more perilous challenges, given the extreme environmental and climatic conditions to be dealt with.  Any drilling rigs deployed offshore in, say, Alaska’s Beaufort or Chukchi Seas must be hardened to withstand collisions with floating sea ice, a perennial danger, and capable of withstanding extreme temperatures and powerful storms.  In addition, in such hard-to-reach locations, BP-style oil spills, whether at sea or on land, will be even more difficult to deal with than in the Gulf.  In any such situation, an uncontrolled oil flow is likely to prove lethal to many species, endangered or otherwise, which have little tolerance for environmental hazards.” [1]

The short-sighted proponents of off-shore/Arctic drilling seem far more concerned with satiating current needs than considering the long-term implications, but as this quote makes clear, there are significant costs and enormous risks involved. Still, I won’t pretend that we can simply ignore off-shore sources. We do need oil … transition away from fossil fuels is not going to happen overnight. No easy answers to be sure; but we need to start looking for them with much greater effort and commitment than we’ve demonstrated to date. It’s already too late in the game. Let’s try not to make it even worse.

So at what point do our leaders, our citizens, and our business institutions begin to realize that we have to start making drastic changes in our energy usage and supply sources now? There will be hell to pay one way or another, but shouldn’t we seize the opportunities where we can to at least attempt to mitigate the consequences of declining production and supply? The Gulf of Mexico catastrophe ought to teach us something!

Almost everything we do and own has been served by the availability of cheap oil, and that’s just about gone. (Craig Severance recently offered a wonderful summary of the looming Peak Oil predicament. It’s well-worth reading.)

So we have two choices: rush headlong into whatever other sources we can plunder regardless of risk, cost, and environmental degradation so that today’s needs continue to be met no matter what; or we take a step back and plan for the rest of this century and beyond by committing ourselves now to what we’ll eventually have no choice but to do: find alternative means of supplying our economies and industries with the energy they (and we) will need. Years of effort will be needed as is. Delay is not an acceptable strategy.

Clearly this Gulf of Mexico disaster is not likely to be repeated often, but it would be ignorant and incredibly naïve to assume this is the last major oil spill mankind will confront. How much more are we willing to risk in order to fuel our seemingly unquenchable thirst for oil … a thirst that geology will nonetheless end unhappily for us unless we have the foresight and courage to do it ourselves?

I’d rather have a say….

[P.S.: I had hoped to be back to regular postings last week, but alas, more unexpected (and expected) family and household obligations delayed me (as is the case this week: I’m now away/otherwise committed until next Tuesday), but by the time this holiday weekend is over, I’m done with most of that for at least a couple of months, so I’ll plan to resume my regular posts next week.]


[1] : The relentless pursuit of extreme energy – 05/19/2010

Just want to pass along a quick note and a plug (unrequested) about one of the leading lights in the Peak Oil “movement”: Richard Heinberg. (He may not wish to be identified as such, given that his role is much greater than as merely a proponent of Peak Oil, but he is nonetheless a deservedly-influential advocate in energy-related matters.)

I had the pleasure of meeting him last week as he gave a presentation in a neighboring town. He was as informed, informative, and generous with his time as I had hoped/expected.

Mr. Heinberg offers a compelling message about the challenges we face, and a solid understanding of the facts that suggest we are in for some significant changes to how we lead our lives. Anyone who has the chance to hear him speak is strongly encouraged to take advantage of the opportunity.

I will be away most of these next two weeks (it’s time to re-locate our two out of state college-attending daughters), but hope to be back to multiple postings each week shortly after May 15th.