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Peak Oil Matters

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


Archive for February, 2012

Here we go again. Every time gasoline prices spike, no matter the reason, Republican leaders and talk radio’s libertarian elite reach for the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) latest talking points and crank up the ‘drill, baby, drill’ rhetoric….
The GOP’s real energy crisis is one of focus. Republican leaders are focusing their energy on keeping America overly dependent on a resource that is far more plentiful outside our own borders. They largely dismiss the strategy of reducing demand and seem content to have us suck our own limited oil reserves dry as quickly as possible. It is a phony solution that they think will play well politically.
Peddling geologic ignorance may score some points with voters who don’t know any better, but it won’t bring the promised relief at the pump. [1]

That quote is almost a year old, but carries no less weight today.

With the GOP now both apoplectic at (1), what our Kenyan-Colonialist-Muslim-Socialist-Martian-Taxaholic-America-hating President (did I mention he’s not a white guy?) is doing to gasoline prices (all by himself, no less, and undoubtedly for non-patriotic, anti-religious purposes … possibly involving contraception and spending of some sort) and (2), relishing the opportunity to blame him for these rising prices (in their economic-fact-free world), I thought it might be useful to trot out an old post of mine, also from a year ago.

Not surprising, the gas prices issue is also giving rise to the same nonsense as was featured in 2011. No need to update with new quotes; they all come from the same Book of Nonsense.

With Newt Gingrich blessing us with revelations obtained from his most recent beyond-Earth’s-atmosphere trip to Planet Delusional Obnoxious Neanderthal that he and he alone will bring the price of gasoline back down to $2.50 per gallon in his Administration (unless some stuff involving reality happens and he … uh, can’t), perhaps we ought to try a different tack and see what facts suggest, just for comparison.

You know what they are, Right? Declining supply; increasing demand; increasing exploration, production, and refining costs; inferior quality substitutes; geopolitical considerations … ring any bells? (Not even Cheerful Newt, with the keen powers only a genuine, incredibly well-paid historian possesses, can prevent any of this.)

So with only a few editorial tweaks, let’s re-visit: “Apparently, Clueless IS A Strategy.”

[NOTE: This is the latest installment in a new PeakOilMatters series (which started here). It’s about finding a new and better vision to get to, through, and beyond Peak Oil and its widespread impact on what we produce, how we produce, and how we live. We won’t be falling off a cliff tomorrow, and the full brunt of Peak Oil’s effects won’t be experienced all at once, either. Gas and oil do not have to disappear entirely, nor do gas prices have to rise into the stratosphere before Peak Oil’s impact is felt.
Gradually, but inexorably, changes will be in the offing, however. We need to come to a better understanding of this, and start preparing ourselves now for the lengthy transition and just as lengthy ongoing impact of Peak Oil on all of us. Many issues must of necessity be considered, and I hope to make a contribution to the public dialogue we need to have. I hope you’ll find these objectives enjoyable as well as beneficial. We have more of a voice than we think we do. Finding that voice just might be our best hope.]


We’re blindly focused on searching for answers within our old paradigm of energy and it’s a vision that really needs to shift. [1]

I began a multi-part series entitled Clueless Is Not A Strategy (first post here) whose primary purpose was to argue that in the face of growing oil production challenges, we need to start having serious, adult conversations about what we’ll all soon be facing (yes, even those who deny the reality of Peak Oil). Remaining ignorant of the facts about oil production, oil supply, and increasing demand; or relying on ignorant or at best disingenuous arguments which urge us not to worry and be happy about our energy resources (if only we can stop our nefarious President with his socialist policies from implementing evil, job-killing regulations … have I covered most of the Buzz-Words of the Day?), is, I proposed, not our best approach.

It would appear, (unfortunately), that some of our fearless “leaders” haven’t gotten the strategy memo—or they are still working from the wrong one. Clueless reigns supreme in some corners of Congress—yet another display of the remarkable ability of some to completely ignore facts and simultaneously plan as far ahead as early next week.

Where is the president’s plan for rising gas prices? – Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY)

Now is the time to be asking what we can do to increase domestic energy production, not proposing ways to squeeze American families even more,’ –  Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

‘My message today simply is the higher gas prices are simply a product of this administration’s goal [to enact a cap-and-trade plan to curb emissions of greenhouse gases].’ – Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) *

‘Since this administration has taken over, they have done everything to block energy development in this country,’ – Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA)

Seriously? Must be part of the Socialist-Alien-Kenyan-Muslim-Not Exceptional-Completely-Ruin-The Country-Just-For-The-Hell-Of-It strategy Obama obviously began pursuing nefariously with his nefarious parents since shortly after his birth on a still-undetermined planet somewhere in our solar system.

Imagine that: an opposition party assailing the President because he (with his magical superpowers over all of commerce and industry) simply has not ordered prices to drop. If only he would stop pursuing regulations that raise gas prices just for the hell of it. What is Obama waiting for? (And while I have his attention, still waiting on lowering college tuition costs for our two daughters….)

Just how clueless are they, and how much of their nonsense will we permit to guide policy in the weeks ahead? They still don’t get it….We have leaders (including Democrats) still making the same pointless pronouncements about “weaning ourselves off of/ending our foreign oil dependency” while they now consider opening up our Strategic Petroleum Reserve because gas prices are high … and still doing absolutely nothing about the underlying causes. (And sorry, Ms. Palin and your loyal followers, “drill, baby, drill” is still as dumb and useless a policy as it was two years ago. See this for more information.)

To his credit, Representative Fred Upton (R-MI), House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, said that the petroleum reserve should be left untouched absent a severe disruption in supply or other emergency. Hard to believe I know, but higher prices at the pump should not qualify as an “emergency.” (Jim DiPeso offered a terrific summary of the reasons against opening up the Reserve.)

As I noted in another post (echoing the realities explained by others much more knowledgeable than me): “For all the talk of the ‘massive’ amounts of oil offshore and in Alaska and the ‘obvious’ need for us to just ‘drill, baby, drill’, we’re several decades away from full production in those regions, and the amounts anticipated will wind up meeting far less than even 5% of our needs. None of it will come cheaply. Drilling in the Arctic is a wee bit more challenging than punching a hole in the ground in Texas, and one does not require an engineering degree to understand that. The ‘drill, baby, drill’ crowd never gets around to spelling any of that out for us. Magical thinking is nice, as is a denial of pesky truths, but on the planet we occupy, it’s a fairly useless exercise.”

Oil is produced and consumed in particular places, but there’s a single worldwide price of oil that’s determined by global supply and global demand. It’s not possible for one country to unilaterally alter the price its own citizens pay at the pump by altering the quantity of oil it produces. A new well in the United States has exactly the same impact on global prices as a new well in Norway or Venezuela or Saudi Arabia and thus the exactly the same impact on the price American consumers pay.
And yet turn it into a political story and suddenly all this knowledge drops away. [3]

Gas prices are higher, and that’s not going to change much in the weeks and months and years to come absent recessions—and it’s best if we not actually plan on falling into another one of those. It may tick off a significant segment of the population and those leaders who seem to think that we are just entitled to lower gas prices because we’re … you know … special, but here’s the message: Grow up and get used to it! We’re better than that, and we need to demonstrate it now. Our future well-being demands no less than recognition of facts and reality. Ideology is nice and serves its own purposes, but it ought to have a much more limited role going forward.

We have a problem with oil production now—not just here in the United States—and it is not going to get better. Demand is increasing, and the amount of oil now being produced will not keep up with that increasing demand. Unfortunately for those who don’t like hearing that kind of news, we Americans do not live in protective bubble. Billions of other people in less-developed nations are eagerly and diligently working to elevate the quality of their lives, and they all need energy to make that happen … the same energy sources we use. More demand for shrinking supply = less for everyone, even we exceptional Americans. Higher prices are part of the ride. Reality.

It is not rocket science. It is not another in a long line of delusional nefarious, Muslim-supporting, job-killing, regulation-creating, socialist conspiracies, despite the best efforts of some self-serving, narrow-minded politicians and media personnel looking to score points with a select group of citizens who also don’t seem to get it. They’re better than that, too.

Higher prices are one noteworthy consequence of a finite resource that can no longer be extracted in amounts, in time, in the right conditions, at optimum quality, and at prices sufficient to meet ever-increasing demand. Facts. Yes, Middle East turmoil has something to do with those price hikes right now—perhaps most of it. But above and beyond this particular geopolitical constraint, we’re now entering a stage on the historical time line of fossil fuel production where supply will not meet demand. Period. It is just that simple. That basic economic problem carries with it a host of consequences and outcomes.

As demand grows in the next decade, we will not have the oil production capacity we will need to meet demand. Supply will then have to ration demand, and prices will skyrocket – with the likely outcome of bringing the world’s economy to its knees. – John B. Hess, chairman and chief executive of the Hess Corporation [4]

Republican House Speaker John Boehner offered his energy insights:

‘As gas prices go up, so does the cost of everyday life,’ [he] told reporters as he unveiled a campaign dubbed the ‘America Energy Initiative’ to increase supplies and roll back regulations.
‘It costs more to drive to work, to buy groceries, or just to get the kids to school. And at a time when our economy already isn’t creating enough jobs, rising gas prices hurt the very people we need to lead us out of our economic crisis: Small businesses,’ he said.

Coming from leadership whose insane and shortsighted budget-cutting proposals are derided by not just Democratic economists but also independents, Wall Street analysts, and John McCain’s own Presidential campaign economic advisor (among others, here) as doing nothing but costing hundreds of thousands of more jobs while pushing us closer to another recession, the Speaker’s concerns about creating jobs rings a tad hollow (although nice job on getting another buzz-phrase: small business, into the comments!). But should we be surprised? It’s all about the sound bites and not the unpleasant truths….We deserve better.

Not to be outdone, Senator McConnell was quoted as saying that we will all be dependent on fossil fuels for “decades to come.” If I were to tell you that your ears will bleed for decades to come, is that the beginning and end of my conversation with you? Might there be at least one moment when you pondered a couple of things in response? “Is this a good thing? Why is that? Would it make sense to change the behaviors or factors causing my ears to bleed?” Just wondering….

Another unpleasant and sure-to-tick-off some truth is that we—you and me—share blame as well.

The success, to date, of fossil fuels being able to meet energy demand any time required has led to a feeling of society wide unrealistic entitlement. This translates into a belief that whatever we want we can always have whenever we want it. This of course is leading to problems as it patently can no longer be maintained. [5]

We will need to be better and wiser than that. We are, so let’s prove it.

There’s no disputing that higher gas prices put a strain on most budgets, both personal and business. That in turn sets all kinds of financial dominoes into motion, with few of them leading to pleasant results. But unless and until we can individually and collectively wrap our minds around the fact that this is just the beginning stages of an entirely new way of living, transporting, producing, and consuming, we’ll continue to look for the same band-aid solutions that will only defer more pain until a bit later on, making the problems all the more difficult to contend with. That’s not much of a strategy. At some point, we need to find our courage and our wisdom so that we make new choices, have new plans and policies, and deal with a future that will be unlike the past in more ways than any of us probably realize.

And an aspect of courage easily overlooked or simply ignored is that regardless of one’s political philosophy, when leadership pursues policies clearly at odds with our long-term interests—even though the policy is entirely consistent with the ideology—something has to give. Since when is shooting ourselves in the foot a noble principle? We all pay a price when we meekly accept an absence of integrity and honesty in political discourse or policy-making itself.

This is not doom-and-gloom for next week or next month, but the process of stagnating if not outright declining oil production has begun. It will unfold over a considerable period of time, and in that regard we’ll have at least some opportunities to “adjust.” But that cannot be our salvation nor can it be the guiding principle for what we need to do as individuals, in our communities, and through our government.

“No plans = unnecessary chaos.” – Chris Martenson

We have both the opportunity and the capabilities to create a recognizable future for ourselves. Failing to take advantage leaves us at the mercy of a fossil fuel tidal wave that will in time change the landscape beyond anything we can envision now. I’d like to believe none of us thinks that that is our best strategy.

More to come….

* See the terrific Steve Benen discussion of the bizarre “reasoning” behind this comment.

[NOTE: I’ll be traveling the rest of this week. Please look for the 3rd and final installment in my series: Peak Oil Denial: Alive, Well, Still Not Helping next Monday.]


[1]; The energy prophet – Peter Tertzakian’s conversation with Derek Brower, October 28, 2010 (original article at
[2]; US Republicans assail Obama as gas prices rise – March 10, 2011
[3]; Oil: A Commodity Traded On A Global Marketplace – March 11, 2011
[4]; A Dark Warning on Global Oil Demand By Clifford Krauss – March 8, 2011
[5]; How sustainable is renewable energy? by Roger Adair – November 25, 2010

The conservative approach of starving the nation’s transportation system is bound to prevent it from being an effective engine for economic growth and could potentially lead to the loss of more than a half-million jobs. (How’s that for a bill that calls itself an ‘infrastructure jobs act’?) But to add to the insult, conservatives are turning the legislation into a virtual pharmacy of poison pills. [1]

More and more, I’m tempted to set aside considerations about Peak Oil and wonder when we reach Peak Ignorant, Narrow-Minded, and Shortsighted—hoping it arrives this week!

The (we can only hope) soon-to-be-buried transportation bill winding its way through Congress shows all the wisdom, planning, and foresight of your typical three-year-old [“I don’t care about later; I want only what I want and I want it now … and you can’t play, either”!] We have a legion of the Clueless and the Dumb legislating on behalf of the (mostly innocent) Uninformed … and all for the benefit of the Few. American exceptionalism on display? Yikes!

As have many others (most much more knowledgeable about transportation policy than me), I recently offered commentary on the hideous bill sponsored by the GOP in its “leaders’” latest demonstration that recognition of reality and the needed long-term planning for said reality is for them defined as about a week, give or take, because facts and reality don’t count for much if they conflict with their narrow-minded ideology of Bad, Bad Federal Government 24/7.

Eliminating the federal transit tax benefit for public transportation users [2] was one of several credits benefiting the mostly middle and lower class lopped off the books in the payroll tax negotiations, demonstrating that transportation policy is not the only arena where it’s possible to kick citizens when they’re down. I keep wondering when the great majority recognizes that most of the legislation coming from the GOP nowadays screws them royally! But as long as the wealthy are catered to, I guess we shouldn’t complain, isn’t that right, Right?

For all practical purposes, the GOP’s transportation bill* eliminates funding for anything other than highways and roads. Eliminating the Mass Transit Account from the federal Highway Trust Fund, as the GOP proposes, eliminates the established source of funds for public transportation. Just like that….In the GOP’s future-less world, funds long-committed to an intelligent vision for the future will have to fight for scraps in a Congress being run mostly by the delusional and short-sighted. Terrific!

* [As I write this before the weekend, rumors are circulating that this provision may be dropped due to strong opposition, including some from members of the GOP as well. Last night one report indicated it had been dropped. The question remains: why would such a provision have been entertained to begin with? What does that suggest about their priorities and the long-term interests of this nation?]

More congestion! More pollution! Screw urban dwellers! More oil and gas sales! Let the poor walk! We dance to the Tea Party tune, and since they don’t understand much, we don’t care! (Actually, that’s a great title for the legislation; wonder why they didn’t give the bill that name? Kinda long, so perhaps that’s the reason….)

The Tea Party is superb at disguising cultural battles as the pursuit of responsible thrift. And mass transit exists at the vortex of many of their No. 1 ideological targets. It’s brilliant, when you think about it.
Defunding transit is how you smack down urbanites, environmentalists, and people of color, all in one fell swoop. It’s how you telegraph a disdain for all things European. It’s how you show solidarity with swing-state suburbanites who don’t understand why their taxes are going toward subways they don’t even use. And it’s how you subtly reassure your base that you’re not concerned about the very poor. [3]

(Neil Pierce also wrote a very nice column in the wake of this ridiculous legislation, expounding on the Tea Party’s nonsense—and influence over—transportation and related policy, even in the face of considerable bipartisan opposition. Worth the read. The Agenda 21 paranoia-driven, fear-based cluelessness he writes about would be comical if it wasn’t so genuinely disturbing.)

As PeakOilMatters has been discussing since its inception, as have many others with even more knowledge than me, at some point in time much sooner than most of us realize, and long, long before we are even remotely prepared, the effects of declining fossil fuel availability are going to extend into every facet of our lives—personal, commercial, professional, and social.

Given how much our entire transportation system is dependent on those fossil fuels to function, when availability and quality are in decline as costs increase, severe disruptions not just in industrial transportation but in our own every-day travels are inevitable. If the gas you use all the time isn’t as plentiful, as “good”, as available, or as inexpensive as you’ve been accustomed to, change is going to happen. And for all the reasons and FACTS Peak Oil proponents share, that’s the reality we’re heading towards. When? Who knows? The date doesn’t matter.

It will be a process that begins quietly and barely noticed at first [already has], and will likely continue for an extended period of time. But all the while that snowball will be gathering momentum as the decline continues. Then, the “potential might possible’s” and half-truths about shale oil and tar sands which the deniers toss out to cloud the issue about fossil fuel production and supply will stop mattering at all.

And when all of this is still gathering strength and affecting pretty much everything we do (absent a lot of planning and adaptation well in advance), what transportation options will be available to us if we continue to allow shortsighted, narrow-minded ideologies dictate how we plan and prepare for our collective future? No option is pain-free, easy, or inexpensive. But cutting off the viable options which may ease much of the burden in blind fealty instead to a system of (non) governance which will do nothing but cause untold and avoidable harm to tens of millions of us is … idiotic! Our leaders may not be better than that, but we are, and we need to step up.

Crisis, or opportunity?

I’m planning to be back with some final thoughts on the transportation matter in an upcoming post, laying out some of the more popular arguments against federal funding of mass transit and why most of it is indeed shortsighted; but for now, I’ll leave you with an additional comment first from Isaiah J. Poole’s column referenced above, and then a final one from the Neil Pierce column also linked to above. Food for thought….

Through this transportation bill, conservatives are pushing the transmission into reverse on everything from environmental policy to workers rights to women’s health. Their efforts would cost the nation’s jobs, make the movement of goods and services less efficient, convert what should be public resources into private profit centers, and keep us mired deep in the 20th century when our global economic competitors are pressing toward the future.

[W]e need courageous leaders — national, state and local — to assert that the United States does need a world-class transportation system, combining road and rail and air, and based on sane low-carbon energy alternatives, not overwhelming but rather serving accessible, livable, walkable communities. And that we’re willing to pay for it.
Ideology aside, what’s wrong with that?

What kind of a future do we want?


[1]; Conservatives On Transportation: Throw America Into Reverse by Isaiah J. Poole – 02.14.12
[2]; Transit Tax Break Buried in Partisan Debate by Janet Babin – 02.18.12
[3]; The Tea Party’s war on mass transit by Will Doig – 02.13.12

[Second in a series]

Last week, an especially egregious but all-too-typical article found its way into the blogosphere, echoing the same tired, fact-free nonsense which now serves as the biblical foundation for denying the reality of what’s happening to a finite (as in NOT infinite) resource used each and every day for nearly two centuries by billions of people, industries, and governments. It’s a simple mathematical premise which continues to confound too many with prominent public voices. Their efforts cannot go unchallenged.

Because it does so fine a job outlining many of the standard misrepresentations employed by those denying the truth about peak oil production, I’m devoting the first two posts in this series to a discussion of Mr. Cantu’s Why We Shouldn’t be Worrying About Peak Oil article [NOTE: all quotes following are taken from there unless noted otherwise]. The first post is here, and next week I’ll conclude this latest series on Peak Oil Denial by discussing issues related to the themes developed from this referenced article.

Picking up where we left off….

The author scoffs at the notion of our nation’s energy security being compromised by our dependence on foreign oil (the argument that we “fund our own enemies”), although I’ll confess to not being entirely clear on where he’s going with his argument that “terrorist attacks are so inexpensive that a decrease in Middle Eastern oil revenues would have virtually no impact on al-Qaeda’s fundraising capabilities.” I’ll leave that one alone.

Mr. Cantu then points out:

… [T]wo of the largest suppliers of crude to the United States are Canada and Mexico, among our staunchest allies and countries that are hardly terrorist breeding grounds. All of the talk about the benefits of choking malevolent countries from U.S. oil demand borders on ignorant isolationism.

A couple of observations on that argument: Mexico’s largest oil field is Cantarell. I discussed it in one of my first blogs posts, and noted that:

Cantarell in Mexico has long been considered of the supergiant oil fields on the planet. As recently as 2004 it was producing about 2.5 million barrels a day of oil, and about half of that was shipped here. Production has fallen off a cliff since then, and in 2 – 3 years, it’s expected that production will have declined by close to 80%. Aside from the enormous financial, political, and social problems that will create for our neighbor south of the border (Cantarell was the major source of income to the Mexican government), this also poses a dilemma for us. Where and how do we make up that shortfall?

Roger Blanchard recently offered more up-to-date production details about Mexico’s total production:

Mexico’s oil production peaked in 2004 at 3.48 mb/d. By 2010, it was down to 2.62 mb/d, a decline of ~860,000 b/d. In 2010, Mexico’s total liquid hydrocarbons production was down to 2.98 mb/d according to US DOE/EIA data. [1]

So … should we just pretend that all is well with our friendly neighbor to the south and make no plans for declining imports from Mexico? So I’ll ask again (and keep in mind that the situation and facts are not unique to Mexico’s oil production): Where and how do we make up that shortfall?

As for the tar sands of Alberta, Kurt Cobb offers this:

The hydrocarbons locked in the tar sands and the Orinoco oil belt in Venezuela aren’t what we call oil and must be heavily processed at high cost using enormous amounts of energy….
The hard-to-get oil resources are large, but they take a long time to develop and require strenuous, expensive and energy-intensive methods to extract. All this, when combined with the relentless depletion of existing fields, spells little or no growth in the worldwide rate of oil production in the coming years. [2]

Tom Murphy adds these observations:

Presently, Canadian production is a little over 1 million barrels per day (Mbpd)
….Optimistic projections expect 3–4 Mbpd by 2020 in Canada. For scale, ten years of conventional oil decline at 3% per year will leave a shortfall over 20 Mbpd….
Heavy oil and tar sands require more effort to extract and process than conventional oil, lowering the energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) to something in the neighborhood of 5:1 (citation). At least it’s net-positive, but nowhere near the 100:1 originally enjoyed by conventional oil, or even the 20:1 levels we find in conventional fields of today’s caliber.
Heavy oil and tar sands will no doubt relieve some pressure on declining conventional oil, but they are capable of only partial relief. In other words, just because we believe the resource to be half-a-trillion barrels, rate-limited extraction will limit its ability to mitigate conventional oil decline. [3]

Mr. Cantu concludes his essay with these statements:

All of this is not to suggest that we should abandon hopes for a more renewable and sustainable energy future. Indeed, there are many promises in the prospects of renewable energies. Yet, we must not kid ourselves to think that we can transform a crucial part of the global economy overnight, nor that our reliance of fossil fuels creates more problems than it does solutions.
Nearly every source of energy comes with its own risks. And with this in mind we can conclude that the risks posed by fossil fuels are far outweighed by their benefits. While this may come across as heretical, the cold truth is that for the time being, there is little to no cause for alarm in how we consume our current energy supply.

And therein the problem. Those who dispute the imminent onset of Peak Oil production (check your rearview mirror) seem entirely incapable of appreciating not how much we rely on fossil fuels for just about everything we do; rather, they seem to have no concept of how much will have to transition from conventional fossil fuel reliance to the various Plan B’s we eventually decide upon. And for anyone to think that we can just ramp up our efforts and transition our entire industrial/commercial/transportation/production/manufacturing/travel/cultural foundations away from fossil fuel dependence to “other” in a matter of a few weeks is beyond delusional.

No one is suggesting that “we can transform a crucial part of the global economy overnight.” That’s the problem! We can’t, which is all the more reason why shunting Peak Oil to the back of the closet for now is about as self-destructive an endeavor as we could undertake.

The simple math is that the finite resource once available to us in nearly-inconceivable abundance and affordability nonetheless has now passed its tipping point. We’re not running out of it for decades, but “nearly-inconceivable abundance and affordability” have left the building. What’s left isn’t as abundant, easy to access, inexpensive, or always available no matter what the circumstances. And what we think might potentially hopefully possibly could if only replace that astonishing resource just isn’t as “good” or efficient or affordable. Those are the facts, unpleasant though they are to consider.

“For the time being” there may be “no cause for alarm”, but that’s a very tiny, narrow window that is all but closed now and forevermore. Denying the facts prevents not only leaders from engaging in the critical dialogue, planning, and implementation needed to transform how we do everything, it prevents citizens from having any appreciation whatsoever about the challenges looming and the consequences we’ll all have to deal with somewhere in the much too-near future.

More to come….


[1]; How Reliable are U.S. Department of Energy Oil Production Forecasts? by Roger Blanchard – 02.15.12
[2]; Fossil Fuels vs. Renewables: The Key Argument That Environmentalists are Missing by Kurt Cobb – 01.23.12
[3]; Fossil Fuels: I’m Not Dead Yet – 02.14.12

[First in a series]

So much misinformation and delusion, one hardly knows where to begin! If only crude oil supplies were as self-replenishing as the Peak Oil denial movement’s continuing assault on (and inability to understand) those … uh … whatchamacallits … FACTS!

Someday, likely within the next decade, the US and the rest of world’s governments will have to acknowledge there is a problem here, and unless alternative sources of energy can be developed and brought into general use quickly, major changes in economic activities and lifestyles are going to take place. [1]

It will take bold leadership to cope with the peak and then decline of world oil production. But first, we need to start at home. We need a President who will explain to the American people simply and clearly that our oil production is in a long decline, and that there’s no easy solution. [2]

Harsh. Unpleasant. Pessimistic. All too true. That is the reality, and some of the salient, well-established facts supporting it are discussed below. Not today, or next week, or next year, but the road we’re on will lead us there soon enough. If we do no planning, preparation, or adaptation well in advance (years), the end of that journey is going to be one hellaciously awful destination for all of us. Deniers, too. We still have choices. They do, too.

What we don’t have is more time to allow the media and industry/political leaders to keep telling the uninformed that all is well in the fossil fuel arena. Offering half-truths, context-free statements, and outright misinformation may serve personal financial or professional interests, but hundreds of millions of people who do not have the time or means to learn the truths for themselves are being poorly served, to their eventual great harm. Sadly, this is not an isolated strategy, employed only when discussing fossil fuel supplies.


‘Peak oil’ refers to the maximum rate of production of regular crude oil. Period. It’s a number.
It is not a theory.
It does not mean ‘running out of oil.
It is not the moral equivalent of Malthusianism.
It is not a political movement, or a religion.
It’s not a dessert topping. It is not a floor wax.
It is not about oil reserves (oil that has been proved to exist and to be producible at a profit), or resources (oil that may exist in the ground, irrespective of its potential to be produced profitably). Those quantities do play a role in estimating the peak, but do not determine it in any way….‘Unconventional’ liquids such as biofuels, natural gas liquids, synthetic oil made from bitumen in tar sands or from kerogen in shales, and liquids made from coal or natural gas are not regular crude oil, nor are they equivalent to crude on several important counts. When you’re talking about unconventional liquids, you are not talking about oil, and lumping them in with oil does not increase the volume of oil. That’s why it’s called ‘peak oil’ and not ‘peak liquid fuels.’ [3]

Last week, an especially egregious but all-too-typical article found its way into the blogosphere, echoing the same tired, fact-free nonsense which now serves as the biblical foundation for denying the reality of what’s happening to a finite (as in NOT infinite) resource used each and every day for more than a century by billions of people, industries, and governments. It’s a simple mathematical premise which continues to confound too many with prominent public voices. Their efforts cannot go unchallenged.

Because it does so fine a job outlining many of the standard misrepresentations employed by those denying the truth about peak oil production, I’ll devote the first two posts in this series to a discussion of Mr. Cantu’s Why We Shouldn’t be Worrying About Peak Oil article [NOTE: all quotes following are taken from there unless noted otherwise]. I’ll conclude this latest series on Peak Oil Denial by discussing issues related to the themes developed from this referenced article.

The truth is fossil fuels will continue to dominate international energy supplies for the long-term simply because they are the least expensive and most pervasive fuel resources the world currently possesses.

Which means what, exactly? Absent context, the statement seems fairly benign. The truth is that this is NOT a good thing! Not for any of us. Fossil fuels are finite resources. Production peaked more than five years ago. (As Chris Nelder noted in the quote above, unconventionals are not the same thing as conventional crude and they do not give the same energy-efficiency bang for the buck.) Butane and propane may count by some as part of ‘fossil fuel production’, thus skewing the totals to the many who do not understand the difference, but I’m pretty damn certain that pouring butane into my gas tank won’t get me very far.

‘One of the methods EIA Washington and IEA Paris have increasingly relied on in recent years to obscure the very serious and now very real problem of oil depletion is to include biofuels and natural gas liquids in the accounting of global oil production. The technique that both agencies use to conduct this obfuscation is a familiar one, in which the key information is aggregated (buried) into a much larger barrage of data and presentations….
‘In order to rebut this Secrecy by Complexity it’s the obligation of responsible energy analysts to explain the falsehood of adding biofuels and natural gas liquids to measures of oil production. The reason is simple: natural gas liquids are not oil, and they contain only 65% of the BTU of oil. Worse, biofuels are barely an energy source themselves and are the product of a conversion process of other energy inputs. Accordingly, the world is not producing 84, or 85, or 86 million barrels of oil per day. Nor will the depletion of oil be solved by the production of biofuels in the future.
‘When the EIA in Washington falsely composes such forecasts, aggregating future natural gas liquids and ethanol into a supply picture for ‘oil’ as they do each year in The Annual Energy Outlook, this disables the public’s ability to accurately understand the true outlook for global oil supply.’ [4]

These are finite resources. Shouldn’t need much more of an explanation….Because they are finite resources, and we’ve already reached the peak of their production [see this, for example], we’re now going to be producing less. And waving the magic wand of touted increases in reserves will get you just as far as the butane in my gas tank. Until/unless they are produced and refined economically, timely, and efficiently, we could assert there are a bazillion barrels of reserves in the ground and they will be just as illusory. Rate of production is what counts, and the rate of production for these unconventional alternatives isn’t that great … not at all, actually.

(Fifty years of producing shale oil in the famous/infamous Bakken formation now being hailed as some sort of Great Energy Savior resulted in a bit more than 110 million barrels of oil. The planet uses approximately 85 million barrels of oil each and every day. The U.S. uses somewhere around 18 million of that total—every day. That 110 million figure is not a per day, per week, per month, or even per year total. Bakken produced 110 million barrels in the entire fifty year period up to 2008. Total. The half million or so barrels now being produced daily is better than a stick in the eye, but it took more than a half-century to get to this point. Expectations that within the decade we may be getting three or four million barrels per day is also better than a stick in the eye, but the solution to our fossil fuel woes? Seriously?)

So saying that “fossil fuels will continue to dominate international energy supplies for the long-term” without some serious planning for (and implementation of) alternative strategies long before declining supplies really start screwing us isn’t, shall we say, especially wise. Or advantageous. Or useful. It’s a statement, not a solution.

Mr. Cantu then offers this, (with my commentary bracketed [  ] and in italics):

Consider the sheer amount of petroleum and natural gas found in the one month of September in 2009: BP discovered three billion barrels of oil [which is about 6 weeks worth of oil usage] in the Gulf of Mexico; Spanish energy firm Repsol tapped into the largest natural gas find in Venezuela’s history [which means what, exactly? Context! Facts!]; Anadarko Petroleum announced the likely presence of hydrocarbon fuels for 700 miles along the west African coastline [“likely presence”?! How much is a “likely presence”?]; and Petrobras of Brazil found even more hydrocarbon fuels in the Santos Basin (which several years prior was said to contain enough energy to make Brazil a global energy power). [Problems solved! “Even more” has been found, which, as we all know, is exactly uh … um … how many barrels in an “even more”, and is it more or less than “likely presence”? How much must one produce to make a nation a “global energy power”? Sure sounds good!]* Simply put, peak oil alarmists and hydrocarbon declinists conveniently ignore the immense power of new technology to harness deeper, untapped sources of fossil fuels. [Actually, we don’t; we merely point out that it’s not Magic—much less assured in any manner; it won’t ride to the rescue next week; it’s more expensive and time-consuming, etc, and the very fact that we’re now resorting to exploration miles below the ocean bottoms is itself a powerful statement about the facts of our energy resources, which the deniers can’t quite fathom. They also seem constitutionally incapable of informing their readers that while all of this inordinate effort to find, extract, refine, and bring to market these inferior resources, existing crude oil resources are depleting daily—anywhere from approximately 4% to 8% per year**. So the one plus million barrels of tar sands and shale oil aren’t quite matching the few million barrels per day in depletion, unless the laws of math are now being repealed as well. The industry is working that much harder just to try and keep pace, and that’s not a good formula for long-term success or our well-being.]

I’ll wrap up this first post of the series with a couple of added observations:

* the “facts” are much like this recent offering—another in a line of context-free assertions making similar claims presumably intended to reassure uninformed readers:

Add in some significant new finds, including Petrobras’s huge field off Brazil’s coast, a large discovery off French Guyana, and Statoil’s potential 1.5 billion-barrel oil field in the North Sea. Then there’s the oil boom in North Dakota, which now produces more oil than OPEC member Ecuador. [5]

Conveniently omitted from this cheery bit of news is some context … facts and explanations would have been nice. A “potential 1.5 billion-barrel oil field”? Potential? If true, that’ll last us less than three weeks. As for the North Dakota is better than Ecuador contest: On the list of OPEC oil-producing nations, Ecuador ranks last. So the umbrella protection which this author presumably intended by mentioning OPEC and North Dakota in the same sentence loses a bit of its luster. In 2010, Ecuador supplied the United States with less than two per cent of our nation’s imports. Also better than a stick in the eye, but seriously … Ecuador? The high art of cherry-picking.

** Conventional oil fields typically see a drop in output of about a 5 percent to 8 percent rate per year. But, as some companies working in the Bakken field in North Dakota are now discovering, shale oil can dwindle far more rapidly than that. One oil executive tells Foreign Policy’s Steve LeVine that oil wells in the Bakken field can decline by more than 90 percent in the first year, leveling off at 8 percent per year thereafter. Once a well dries up, the company has to move over to a nearby spot in the field. That’s a lot of new drilling. And all that drilling is pricey. [6]

More to come….


[1]; The Peak Oil Crisis: Election 2012 by Tom Whipple – 02.01.12
[2]; Obama falsely claimed U.S. oil production at an all-time high by Mason Inman – 01.25.12 [Original article:]
[3]; The politics of peak oil by Chris Nelder – 02.01.12
[4]; Happy New Year from The North Sea. Or, Secrecy By Complexity by Gregor MacDonald – 01.01.11
[5]; Oil prices will rise as supplies tighten? Hardly by A. Gary Shilling – 02.06.12
[6]; Has the United States beaten peak oil? Not so fast by Brad Plumer – 02.17.12

The official mourning period is now over, and I’m once again able to discuss the Super Bowl in somewhat dispassionate terms (%^&$*$ Eli Manning! Sorry….)

What if there was no Super Bowl game?

In a January article entitled “Super Bowl 2012: Indianapolis Invites Visitors for Weeklong Celebration” by Mark Johanson, city officials were said to be expecting 150,000 visitors during Super Bowl weekend (nearly 70,000 of whom would attend the game itself). Another source suggested the number was more likely in excess of a million….

In Diana Lind’s piece (“The Economic Mixed Bag That is the Super Bowl“), she reported that while the National Football League claims that the host city for the Super Bowl receives revenues totaling anywhere from $300 to $500 million, Indianapolis was expecting less than half of that lofty amount ($150 million was the stated estimate, and the calculations for that were questioned as being too optimistic and inaccurate as well, as Lind noted).

Having been lucky enough to attend a Super Bowl several years ago (much happier memory—the Patriots won that one!), I can personally attest to the fact that it is indeed quite the spectacle.    The Colts home city appears to have left no stone unturned in its efforts to present itself in the best possible light while offering fans and visitors the full scope of Super Bowl pageantry.

The Johanson piece quoted a Convention & Visitors Association official as promising a complete transformation of the downtown area, filled with “food carts, vendors, three stages, warming stations, food and beverage” with the intent of re-making that part of Indianapolis into an Olympic Village. And for those not satisfied with that (?), Johanson reported that there would also be “interactive games, concert stages, bars and restaurants, and a so-called ‘Tailgate Town,’” together with “four zip lines” enabling users to “fly over the Super Bowl Village.” Not to be outdone, the “NFL Experience” located at the Convention Center serves as the sport’s interactive theme park with all the bells and whistles one might expect: “participatory games, displays, entertainment attractions, kid’s football clinics, free autograph sessions, and the largest football memorabilia show ever staged.”

I am not nearly versed enough in the intricacies of planning such an event, but it stands to reason that a lot of time, effort, equipment, personnel, machinery, and transportation is needed to turn an American city into the center of the pro football universe (and for that matter, the entertainment one as well, given that the game itself drew more than 117 million viewers—a new television-viewing record, topping the 2011 Super Bowl audience.)

Granted, the Super Bowl is not your average sporting event (not with secondary market ticket prices starting in excess of $2000 per, and “a field-level luxury suite with a capacity of 35 people can be yours for $650,000!” as noted in a Huffington Post article by Andrew Brandt). The “normal” ticket-purchasing fan is not the typical attendee at the Super Bowl, and the marketing aspects attending the event are far from routine, given that it is the biggest event of the year for most advertisers.

Brandt’s article went on to report that NBC received more than $250 million just from TV advertising, and (citing other sources, including this one) that “5 million people are projected to buy new televisions in preparation for the game, and fans are expected to spend $11 billion on Super Bowl-related purchases (including the consumption of 1.25 billion chicken wings).” That’s a lot of grocery stores, caterers, restaurants, sporting goods stores, electronics stores, party-favor suppliers, etc., etc., reaping tangential benefits. (Wikipedia reports it’s the second-largest day for food consumption in America; Thanksgiving is first.) Brandt also pointed out that the city’s 6000-plus hotel rooms were all sold out (at inflated rates, no doubt), leaving many visitors obliged to stay at facilities nearly an hour away (also at exorbitantly higher rates.)

That’s a lot of traveling (personal and commercial), together with a lot of supplying and delivering. (Johnson’s article reported that “Over 1,000 private planes are expected on the ground during the weekend ushering in countless celebrities.”)

John Russell and Jon Murray wrote a separate article at the website that one national restaurant chain in particular drew more than 1200 people to its facility in Indianapolis over Super Bowl weekend, more than double its usual amount. Obviously merchants and retailers expect/hope to reap secondary benefits from consumers who leave with favorable impressions of the service or product and might thus frequent those same commercial establishments in other locations. Certainly the host city itself likewise expects/hopes to attract additional tourists and convention business from the favorable reviews.

However, the Russell/Murray piece also noted that when all relevant revenues (more than $7 million, including several million dollars from the NFL along with hotel and restaurant taxes, etc.) and expenses (labor, insurance, utilities, personnel, security, etc.) are tabulated, the city may be looking at shortfalls of anywhere from $450,000 to nearly $900,000. Not pocket change in this economy….

So I’ll ask again, what if there was no Super Bowl game?

Nearly two years ago, I wrote my first piece about the impact of declining oil/gas supply (i.e. Peak Oil) as it relates to sports and sports travel. In that post, I offered these observations:

How do teams (high school, college, the pros) deal with travel issues and schedules when gas is much too expensive to enable teams to transport their players even short distances, or when air travel is severely curtailed and wildly expensive because not enough jet fuel is being processed to meet demand (and airports are shuttered because air travel has diminished markedly), or when the fans cannot afford to put the gasoline in their vehicles that in the past allowed them to attend the games without a second thought?
What happens when half, or a third, or one-tenth the number of fans can afford to attend games because budgeting all that money to drive to an in- or out-of-state stadium no longer makes financial sense? Pure supply and demand: when demand continues and supply is reduced, prices go up. Decisions are then made about where to allocate funds. Does a trip across the state to attend a Red Sox game make more sense than paying for your children’s basic needs for the next few months?
Where will the revenue to pay players come from when the majority of fans are no longer traveling to see the games either because limited gas supplies are now being allocated or it’s simply become too expensive for “frivolous” trips? How do owners continue to fund their vast operations (office staff, marketing, scouting staffs, minor leagues, utility services for the stadiums and training facilities, and on and on it goes)? What happens to the vendors and other suppliers when the majority of fans just stop attending … permanently?

What happens when the mind-boggling efforts in planning, preparing, transporting, supplying, delivering, etc., etc. needed to stage this incredible event by countless thousands of individuals and merchants and organizations and government officials are simply no longer feasible because every single entity up and down the supply and service chain is faced with the reality of insufficient availability of “affordable”, quality, energy supply to make this extravaganza happen?

How many economic dominoes tumble as a result? How many businesses lose out? How many employees?

I’m not anticipating that the NFL will cease production of the Super Bowl anytime in the near future, but the reality of Peak Oil will affect this event and this organization just as it will every other commercial enterprise. It will take an incredible amount of planning and thought to figure out an appropriate Plan B just for this one event … how much more planning and thought will be needed for everything else?

A few more of those annoying facts to keep in mind as we (don’t) prepare for looming energy challenges, courtesy of three recent and excellent articles/interviews well worth the time to review in full [see Sources below for the links]:

Nothing can replace oil as the lifeblood of our culture and there is no domestic supply source which will eliminate or even reduce our dependence upon the 10 million barrels per day we import from foreign countries. There are some hard truths that are purposefully ignored by those who want to mislead the public about the grim consequences of peak cheap oil:
* The earth is finite. The amount of oil within the crust of the earth is finite. As we drain 32 billion barrels of oil from the earth every year, there is less remaining within the earth. We have drained the cheapest and easiest to reach 1.4 trillion barrels from the earth since the mid 1800s. The remaining recoverable 1.4 trillion barrels will be expensive and hard to reach. [1]

While it is critical we invest our current resources to finding solutions to the approaching energy gap, it’s also essential we approach the situation realistically and with as little magical thinking as possible. Currently, the US is consuming 10 million barrels per day more than it produces domestically….The short of it is there is going to be no single fuel source that replaces oil, and the transition to a post-Peak Oil future is going to involve a period of “less energy” for society for an undetermined period of time. [2]

We tend to have self-confidence in our ability to solve any problem. But we have no historical analog to the peak of fossil fuels, without a clear (and superior) replacement on the horizon. As a result of our fossil fuel binge, we have unprecedented problems in population, water, agriculture, fisheries, pollution, climate change, and so on. Our moment in history is rather special. It is dangerous to assume that we’ll gracefully handle problems at this scale, because such assumptions amount to dismissals and concomitant inaction. Unacceptable.
It bothers me that we don’t have a plan. It scares me that we (collectively) don’t think we even need a plan. Faith in the market to solve the problem represents a high-stakes gamble. We can and should do better. [3]

Another in the body of recurring themes of Peak Oil Matters is that we do ourselves no favors by denial and delusion. The psychological purposes they serve are no match for the potential harm we’ll cause ourselves over a much longer period of time by ignoring, hoping, or wishing. Strategies available to us, of course, but their usefulness—such as it may be—is completely useless at this point.

The authors above each discuss similar themes raised in prior posts of mine and by any number of others doing their best to put us all on notice that we need to start thinking about the energy issues at hand, and then thinking differently about how to address the challenges. More importantly, planning should be among our top priorities starting about ten years ago. We’re a wee bit behind.

Echoing proposals I offered several months ago (as have others), Jim Quinn boils it down succinctly:

If our society acted in a far sighted manner, we would be creating communities that could sustain themselves with local produce, local merchants, bike paths, walkable destinations, local light rail commuting, and local energy sources.

And Tom Murphy bolsters that theme, citing the much-discussed and highly-respected The Hirsch Report (a subject I’ve covered in a number of prior posts; see the Category in the sidebar):

The bottom line was that initiating all such crash programs in parallel 20 years ahead of the peak (or more to the point, 20 years before the start of decline) may be sufficient to avoid major hardships. Waiting until 10 years before the decline would result in major disruptions as the efforts struggled to establish a large enough foothold in time for the decline. Initiating the crash program at the moment the decline starts was characterized as having catastrophic repercussions. Not treated was the more politically realistic scenario of waiting until 5 years after the start of decline while we bicker about the fundamental cause of our woes and strategies for mitigation….
Because we will more likely wait until the pain of decline has made itself clear, we may find ourselves handicapped by recession and debt, hampering our ability to act boldly….
… [S]tarting a crash program toward replacement of finite fossil fuels too early has great up-sides and marginal downsides (opportunity cost); but failure to act has enormous downside for marginal upside.

What exactly are we waiting for? For all the happy talk about the “potential possible if only we do X and Y might work” options discussed by others [as I’ve cited ad nauseum in the many “Denial” posts], too many of us have been lulled into a false sense of security that the problems—if any—are being handled.

Jim Quinn wasn’t as “kind” in his assessment (but he’s right) while pointing out a serious consequence of this pattern of deceptions and half-truths offered up by not only politicians but also by many in the oil industry who know better (and, as I’ve also emphasized repeatedly, by our own failure so far to learn more):

American presidents have propagated the Big Lie of energy independence for the last three decades. The Democrats have lied about green energy solutions and the Republicans have lied about domestic sources saving the day. These deceitful politicians put the country at risk as they misinform and mislead the non-thinking American public….
The propaganda blared at the impressionable willfully ignorant American public has worked wonders. The vast majority of Americans have no clue they have entered a world of energy scarcity.

For all the talk about the magic of Technology riding to the rescue, almost all of the research, planning, testing, marketing, etc., etc., etc required before establishing various Plan Bs as solutions require fossil fuels to make the processes happen from A to Z. What gets prioritized in a future with fewer of those resources available to begin with? Just how quickly will these various, successfully-tested and fully-implemented Plan Bs be showing up on our doorsteps?

Does anyone have a full appreciation for just how much and how many (processes, productions, transportation plans, products, etc., etc.) will have to be effectively and efficiently converted/prepared/tested for successful utilization of these Magic Technology Saviors (while fossil fuel reserves continue their steady march down the Depletion Slope)?

As Tom Murphy so nicely summed up: “Even though energy may represent something like 10% of GDP, it’s what makes the other 90% possible.”

Is anyone paying attention to the energy “quality” of all the alternatives being considered/hoped for? There’s not a single unconventional (tar sands, shale) or alternative (wind, solar, etc) energy resource that comes close to matching the energy density and efficiency of the hundreds of billions of barrels of crude oil we’ve consumed in the last century and a half. Hello! One need not be schooled in quantum physics, advanced algebra, or geology to appreciate that replacements which are for starters less efficient and more costly are not going to actually “replace” crude oil’s extensive benefits. They’re at best poor substitutes, and how might the consequences of that fact play themselves out for the billions of people with their trillions of products and demands and needs currently supplied by crude oil? Hello again!

With almost all of the major oil fields now on the downslope of their own production peaks, how much stock should any of us be putting in the still-rosy assessments of ramped-up production from those same fields over the next few decades? How does that math work? (We’re of course blindly assuming that these primary oil exporters will of course continue to serve the needs of Americans before … their own citizens? Seriously? Who gets to deliver that message? Safe to assume there might be a complaint or two?)

The most optimistic, arguably-realistic assessments about production potentials of the various unconventional and alternative resources will barely match current depletion rates. It’s now been several decades since we were finding more oil than was being consumed. Given that these crude oil wannabes aren’t as efficient, what kind of math is     being passed around to make this all seem acceptable and not worth a moment’s worth of concern?

As Tom Murphy again summed up for us:

The geological upshot is that oil is not a lake into which we thrust a straw, slurping as fast as we wish. Rather, oil is a viscous fluid in porous, permeable rock that resists rapid recovery. It’s not a spigot or valve that we can turn at will. Nature has a say in how fast we can claim the oil….
The lesson is that we don’t have full control over oil production. If previous discoveries are in decline, and we are not adding new fields at a replacement rate, we should expect aggregate decline.

Each of the three referenced authors do us all a great service by discussing these and other relevant considerations (economic and geopolitical, for example) which put a bit of a crimp in the blind happy talk which gets far too much airplay … at our expense.

I think I can safely speak for each of them, and almost every other proponent of Peak Oil, when I say that I would LOVE to be wrong about all of this! But the harsher truth is that there are just too many warning signs in too many aspects of fossil fuel exploration, discovery, production, cost, quality, and supply to ignore it all and expect that hope, wishes, good thoughts, and crossed fingers are all we need.

The potential exists, therefore, for major disruption to our accustomed ways of life. We will become viscerally aware of how fundamentally important oil is to all that we do.. It’s not just another commodity like sneakers or widgets. Curtail transportation and watch the grocery store shelves struggle to stay full. See food prices escalate and cause immediate hardships around the world. Find out how far-flung about the globe the material resources are that comprise a cell phone. [Tom Murphy]

So, assuming the Peak Oil camp is on to something, what’s the likelihood for a disruption-free transition to another energy source that can replace the energy output we currently enjoy from oil? … How realistic are these hopes?
Not very. [Martenson and Rapier]

Shouldn’t we at least be having broader and more meaningful discussions starting right about now?


[1]; U.S. Energy Independence – The Big Lie by James Quinn – 11.15.11
[2]; Robert Rapier: The Scientific Challenges To Replacing Oil with Renewables [interview with Robert Rapier by Chris Martenson, posted by Adam] – 11.26.11
[3]; Using physics and estimation to assess energy, growth, options by Tom Murphy – 11.01.11

Although it is likely that the President and his Secretary of Energy understand that a decline in world oil production is not far away, it is simply not a topic to be raised prior to an election as the political risk is simply too great. Someday, likely within the next decade, the US and the rest of world’s governments will have to acknowledge there is a problem here, and unless alternative sources of energy can be developed and brought     into general use quickly, major changes in economic activities and lifestyles are going to take place. [1]

So that’s sufficient reason to be allowing moronic decisions to serve as current policy instead? Do any of our “leaders” in Congress understand the concept of “long-term planning”? Foresight? How about just plain ‘ol basic “planning” … the kind that runs beyond Election Day? Are they all clueless … and self-serving beyond all bounds of basic decency?

The latest demonstration of short-sighted, narrow-minded “leadership” comes courtesy of the House Ways and Means Committee. Last week, the Committee’s majority, in their infinite wisdom, proposed a much-needed transportation bill which managed to all but eliminate currently-legislated funding for public transit, among other egregious, ignorant and decidedly ideological proposals having very little to do with national best interests.

This awesome display of brazen hypocrisy (and a giant “screw you” to millions of not-wealthy citizens who use and/or rely on public transit) calls for that funding to now take a number and wait in line for crumbs from the general fund—the same general fund which supplies the needed revenue for all other government spending. Now, the billions collected from the (wildly insufficient) gas tax will be directed exclusively to road programs, rather than allocating a percentage of those revenues to transit as has been customary and routine for decades.

But the good news is that the House wants $40 billion in spending cuts to offset this “transfer” of funding to the general fund. Another giant “screw the future” message….

With a House like this, what advances can American transportation policy make?
Actions by members of the U.S. House over the past week suggest that Republican opposition to the funding of alternative transportation has developed into an all-out ideological battle. Though their efforts are unlikely to advance much past the doors of their chamber, the policy recklessness they have displayed speaks truly poorly of the future of the nation’s mobility systems. [2]

Wouldn’t it be easier for them to just announce that they genuinely don’t give a shit about 99% of Americans? Think of how much time and energy they’d save by making it obvious to even the densest of right-wing, (non-wealthy only, of course) supporters that what’s in their best interests really does not matter any more than it does for those who support the Democrats.

Dan Smith of USPIRG put it like this:
The House Ways and Means Bill stops just short of defunding America’s public transit system. Instead it says that the real money with a funding source will all go to highways, while the tooth fairy will pay for transit. For Big Oil and the highway lobby, this is a dream, but it’s a nightmare for America’s transportation future. [3]

Here in Eastern Massachusetts, the state’s Department of Transportation recently rolled out a grim set of proposals designed to counter severe budget shortfalls. All indications are that an increase in the state’s gas tax as a viable source for funding is a dead issue before it’s even raised in the legislature, so cutbacks in Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority [MBTA] services—  coupled with fare hikes affecting commuter rail, bus, ferry, and subway riders—are Plan B. Parking fees at various transit stations would also be raised.

Under one scenario, fares overall would increase by 43 percent, while under the other, they would increase by 35 percent.
Under both scenarios, MBTA ferries would be eliminated, commuter rail weekend service would be eliminated and nighttime service would end at 10 p.m., and weekend service on [specified transit lines] would be eliminated.
But in the second scenario, a larger number of bus routes would be cut, generating savings that would enable the smaller fare increase. [4]

The MBTA also provides commuter rail service to the Massachusetts North Shore community where our summer home is located. We try to spend as many weekends there as we can during the late spring through mid-autumn period. But under what I labeled as the MBTA’s Plan B as noted above, elimination of weekend rail service there is also on the table.

… [O]fficials said there is no way to quantify exactly how many weekend visitors who come by commuter rail would stay away if they had to drive instead.
But during the summer, Rockport and Manchester fill with out-of-towners, many of whom take the commuter rail in order to save money or to avoid the difficultly of finding parking space. [5]

(That same article also notes this distressing fact: “According to the MBTA, 12 percent of commuter rail passengers would be affected by the cuts, and 6.7 million fewer people would ride the commuter rail each year than do currently.” That’s not an insignificant number of people obliged to now use autos instead….)

I’ll admit that to date this is not an issue affecting me personally. We drive to our summer home, as I’ve noted in other posts such as this one. I did, however, make use of public transportation on one notable occasion back in 2010, as I recounted (here):

As I noted way back when in my introduction to this blog, we are very fortunate. We own an exquisite (at least to us), spacious summer home a hundred yards or so from the Atlantic Ocean. We vacation here and enjoy every blessed minute of it! In normal driving conditions, it takes us fifty minutes or so to go door-to-door from our suburban Boston home to the ‘beach house’, which is where I am as I write this. What a treat for us!
Summer vacation usually means grabbing as much time as we can here—work and young adult schedules permitting. That means frequent travel along the Route 128/Interstate 95 corridor … most times with more than one vehicle; most times more than once or twice a week.
As a strong proponent of Peak Oil, I have decidedly mixed feelings about this, as I have mentioned before….I love this lifestyle, and I approach my task of disseminating information about our soon-to-be-curtailed availability of fossil fuel supply with more than my fair share of selfish trepidation. We do not yet own hybrid vehicles, and so we spend more than our fair share of time filling the gas tanks of my wife’s German import and my Japanese SUV in order to make many trips to and from our summer home from Memorial Day through mid-October. I balance that guilt with the acknowledgment (rationalization?) that I work from home, and that my wife’s office is about 6000 feet from our home, so we actually spend no more on gas than most other families.
Once gas prices begin their inevitable climb up, whether that’s later this year, next year, or a couple more years down the road, and with a simultaneous curtailment in how much fossil fuel will remain available to us to meet all of demands and expectations and needs, my rationalizations may not matter much.
With that in mind yesterday, for the first time in the 6 summers that we’ve owned this home, I used public transportation to make most of the journey from home to here at the beach house. My daughter drove me a couple of miles to a commuter rail stop which took me into Boston’s North Station, where I then—some fifteen minutes after my
arrival—boarded a different rail line to take me to the North Shore. I then hailed a cab to take me the three miles or so from the train station to our summer place. (I’ve already informed my wife that I will soon take public transportation door to door, just to see what that’s like. That will add two bus trips and a decent amount of walking at the beginning and end of my trip, along with two separate subway rides. I’m expecting at     least an additional hour of travel each way, but no more than a few more dollars in fares.)
The one way trip yesterday cost me about $20.00, and took me two hours and ten minutes door to door. Compare that to less than $10.00 of gas and less than 60 minutes of travel time when I drive. More expensive certainly, and clearly more time-consuming, but all in all it was a pleasant enough experience, and surprisingly scenic in several places along the way. It was nice to be able to read and engage in some computer work while traveling … not an option when I’m barreling along at 65 miles per hour on Route 128.

So when we all begin experiencing first-hand and on a regular basis the myriad consequences of reduced availability of the fossil fuel resources we’ve long taken for granted, how quickly can our local communities, regional administrations, states, and federal authorities reinstate and create new transportations modes? Has that thought occurred to any of our brilliant Congressional officials who now feel emboldened to all but eliminate these options right now because they are intellectually incapable of thinking beyond November, and morally opposed to anything that might smack of decency and national interest (except, of course, the national interests on the wealthy)?

How much money, time, effort, and resources can we be expected to waste by devoting all of those assets to highways and roadways used by gasoline-chugging vehicles … highways and roadways and vehicles whose usage and very existence will be challenged in decades to come when the availability of affordable, efficient, and plentiful fossil fuels is no longer routinely assured to the masses?

… A]s the consumer of a quarter of the world’s oil supply, we can have a significant effect on the world oil market by making sure that our economy can adjust quickly and easily to changes in the oil price….
Increased investment in alternative modes of transport, such as mass transit (both buses and rail), bike lanes, bike and car sharing, and walking improvements to allow many more workers the option of getting to their jobs without the use of a personal car.
Improvements in our nation’s rail system to allow more freight to be shifted from truck to rail.
Encouraging the electrification of transport (including the alternative transport options mentioned above) to provide transport options which are not dependent on oil.
In short, we need to make the market for transportation services more efficient by encouraging new entrants (mass transit, bikes, trains) and competition with the incumbent car/internal combustion engine infrastructure. [6]

Wouldn’t it be nice to have voted into office leaders who think about these fact-based possibilities on our behalf (even if these contrary-to-their-ideology issues are not 100%, absolutely guaranteed to occur in every moment and circumstance?)

Why should this be wishful thinking?


[1]; The Peak Oil Crisis: Election 2012 by Tom Whipple – 02.01.12
[2]; Time to Fight by Yonah Freemark – 02.06.12
[3]; House GOP Moves to Decimate Dedicated Transit Funding by Ben Goldman – 02.02.12

[4]; MBTA fares could rise as much as 43 percent; ferry, bus, commuter rail cuts also eyed by Martin Finucane – 01.03.12

[5]; MBTA service cuts seen hurting Cape Ann by Stephanie Bergman – 01.05.12

[6]; The End of Elastic Oil by Tom Konrad – 01.26.12

Claiming there is an oil limit on the economy and why peak oil is inevitable is usually talked down by saying its an unsure theory at best, and controversial, fear mongering or defeatist at worst. The totally simple numbers which prove it are however not
Einstein-type mathematics and are not impossible to understand – – only by the badly intentioned or plain stupid. [1]

Not my words, but for anyone who has spent enough time considering the facts about crude oil production/Peak Oil, it is difficult to come to grips with not only the level of denial exhibited by too many, but to understand what benefits to society at large might they think exist by the false claims, misrepresentations, and fact-free statements repeated ad nauseum, despite the clearly incorrect nature of their offerings? (Upcoming posts and a series devoted to the topic will explore the issue in more detail.)

I understand that those profiting from maintaining a status quo in fossil fuel production will do their damnedest to make sure we’re not devoting resources and efforts to alternatives. The fear and agitation they use as primary props suggests their good intentions and beneficent character could use some fine-tuning.

But the repetition of the same nonsense day after day is almost comical at this point, and would be just that and no more if it weren’t for the harm misinformation and half-truths leave scattered in their wake. If citizens who, through no fault of their own, are not being supplied with the truth, how can they expect policies and measures to effectively address their needs and concerns?

But like clockwork, the same sets of misleading statements and disingenuous arguments continue apace.

James Delingpole’s Commentary review offers plenty of criticism of Daniel Yergin’s 800-page book, The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World. But Delingpole praises Yergin’s chapter on peak oil as the one ‘that performs the greatest public service.’
It matters because so much dangerous political nonsense — especially in the environmental movement — depends on it. If you believe, as peak-oil theorists do, that global oil reserves are about to run out, then clearly it makes more sense to go down the road many greens have long been urging us to take: Rein in energy consumption; tax fossil fuels; encourage renewables; ration air-conditioning and hot showers; deindustrialize. [2]

Rationing showers? Seriously? As I discussed in a series (first of five posts here) this past November and December, an immediate red flag goes up as soon as a purported debunking of the “myth” of peak oil (wouldn’t it be nice if facts continued to be treated as facts? What a concept!) suggests that Peak Oil proponents believe or advocate that we’re “running out of oil/reserves.” (I—among others—addressed that specific point here and here.) It’s a numbingly idiotic statement to make in light of our continuing assertions and facts to the contrary, but when you have no rational or legitimate argument to make, then I guess that making stuff up is your best Plan B. Certainly sounds plausible to the undiscerning uninformed….

The same blogger then praises Yergin’s Commentary reviewer for pointing out what must surely be the piece de resistance: “Yergin runs the figures, and they are amazing: In 2009, for example, after a year’s worth of oil production at around 90 million barrels per day, the world’s proved oil reserves were greater at the end of the year (1.5 trillion barrels) than they were at the beginning.” Holy Misdirection, Batman!

Chris Nelder said it best:

Peak oil deniers always talk about reserves, not production rates, for the same reason a squid squirts ink when it is threatened. Either they haven’t the foggiest idea what ‘peak oil’ means, nor a grip on production data (let alone the key production/reserves ratios). . . or clouding the issue, and painting peak oil analysts as Chicken Littles, is their explicit intent. After a decade of observing this behavior, particularly in publications which should know better, I’m now inclined toward the latter view. [3]

To what end?

“Reserves” do not equal available supply; not by a long shot. Quintuple the proved reserves figures if it floats your boat, but what might arguably be buried beneath the Earth’s surface offers exactly zero assurance it will in fact be produced economically, practically, or efficiently. (A more thorough fact-based discussion of Mr. Yergin’s assertion—with additional links and commentary—can be found here.) And let’s not forget amid all of this great news the fact that we have been using for decades is being drawn down each and every day, and so much of what will be produced going forward will first have to match depletion rates before we marvel at their substitute potential … while billions around the world strive to improve their conditions … using more of the energy resources still available.

The writer then offers this:

But such is the sophistication of the energy industry. Today it is worth $65 trillion, and in two decades it will be worth $130 trillion — more than enough incentive for entrepreneurs, scientists, and big business to develop increasingly imaginative ways of locating and exploiting the world’s resources. In the case of oil, this means learning how to drill in more hostile terrain, such as the deep-ocean sites off the coast of Brazil and in the Gulf of Mexico.

What does the estimated worth of an industry two decades from now have to do with the fossil fuels available to us on demand at reasonable prices now and in the intervening years? “Incentive” is all fine and well, but while conventional oil fields continue their daily depletion, how much “incentive” will fill your gas tank? How many products can be transported by the freight industry—or manufactured by industries dependent on crude oil to provide supplies or power their own processes—using “increasingly imaginative ways”? And I’m not all that comforted by “learning how to drill in more hostile terrain.” What does that suggest about the quality and availability fossil fuel supplies? Not cheap, either.

It’s possible that if you search through enough sofa cushions you’ll find enough spare change to retire on, but that’s not really much of a financial strategy, is it? Oil exploration is getting too close for comfort to the sofa cushions stage.

We’re better than that, and we need to demonstrate it. It will take our best if we’re to have any reasonable possibility of successfully adapting to a future with different quantities and quality of energy sources to power us all. These dopey comments aren’t demonstrating much in the way of “better.”

Citing an “excellent” article by economist and professor of energy policy Dieter Helm, another recent entry into the curious world of peak oil opponents offered this:

Helm rightly asserts, ‘The Earth’s crust is riddled with fossil fuels’ adding ‘there is enough oil and gas (and coal too) to fry the planet several times over.’ And his words echo Huber and Mills‘ definitive quote on the subject, ‘Energy supplies – for all practical purposes – are infinite’. The issue is not (and never has been) too much or too little of a given resource. It has always been whether prices are too low or too high to make extraction viable. Today, the shale gas and oil “miracle” – or rather man’s ingenuity in finding new ways to tap previously unrecoverable resources – has yet again blown a gaping hole in the peak-ist argument; as the end of year figures make only too plain. [4]

Where does “fry the planet” fit on the Right’s quantity scale: Is it more than “massive” but less than “vast”? How many barrels of conventional crude oil in “riddled”? And as for “infinite” supplies of energy (the “definitive quote” no less!) … I guess that depends on one’s definition of “for all practical purposes.”

If it’s the fact-based one used here on Planet Earth, our energy supply’s availability is not quite so infinite. But in a fact-free world … sure, why not? But if our energy supply is so infinite, why are we even having discussions about Peak Oil? Shouldn’t it be obvious that oil companies should just be going around and sticking giant straws in the ground so they can pull out some of those infinite supplies and keep oil priced at … oh, how about five cents per gallon? Sound good? Why are we going after shale oil and tar sands and deep water resources instead? What does that basic fact suggest to all but the most delusional?

In another discussion of this same “excellent” article, the author discusses several supply and demand arguments presumably serving as the foundation for Peak Oil proponents. Others more qualified than me have discussed oil reserve calculations and enhanced recovery methods, so I’ll take a pass.

But two other frequently raised topics (flaws in proponents’ arguments) are put forth. (And let’s not forget the all-encompassing magic of “Technological advances could potentially extend depletion rates of existing wells and new reserves.” Ah yes, the could potentially perhaps might if only meme):

Oil is not fungible: This is among the most serious flaws in the argument. History is replete with examples of fuels being replaced by other fuels. Power is now generated using gas and renewable energy in Europe, which has diminished the importance of coal and oil. Electric trains have largely replaced steam and diesel. Seen in this light, replacing oil with other fuels could mitigate spikes in oil prices.

Insatiable demand from China and India: Helm argues that peak oilers see China and India’s growth as exogenous to global economic performance. In reality, China’s growth depends largely on U.S. and European consumption, fueled by their prosperity. Turn the switch off, and the slower economic growth could ease any supply pressure on oil. [5]

One omission in the assertion contained in the first paragraph (aside from the “could mitigate” comment): Facts. Remember them? “Replacing oil with other fuels” … which fuels? How? How quickly? How much? How effective? How soon? By whom? And those are just off the top of my head. Great sound bite, but it leaves much to be desired if meaningful, factual content is your thing.

These other products are useful, but they are not as energy-rich, versatile or easily transported as oil. Our current infrastructure is heavily dependent on oil inputs with no real substitutes available in the quantities required….
The hard-to-get oil resources are large, but they take a long time to develop and require strenuous, expensive and energy-intensive methods to extract. All this, when combined with the relentless depletion of existing fields, spells little or no growth in the worldwide rate of oil production in the coming years. [6]

As for the China-related comment in the second paragraph above: “Turn the switch off, and the slower economic growth….:” So, if China stops buying our goods, then American businesses lose revenue, which means that they aren’t making as much money, which means they can’t purchase from their suppliers, and of course they can’t maintain the staffing levels they have when they are selling to China, which means workers lose jobs, which means they don’t have enough money to buy from other businesses, which means.…

Stop me when this turns into good news.


[1]; There Will Be Oil – Versus – Peak Oil Now by Andrew McKillop – 01.01.12
[2]; Another blast against the ‘peak oil’ myth by Mitch Kokai – 01.03.12
[3]; The politics of peak oil by Chris Nelder – 02.01.12
[4]; A Shale-Fuelled Economic Miracle for 2012 by Peter C. Glover – 01.05.12
[5]; Helm’s critique on peak oil: Why post oil prosperity is feasible – Analysis of Peak Oil and energy policy – a critique by Ricardo Barcelona [Managing Director, Barcino Capitas Limited] – 01.05.12
[6]; Fossil Fuels vs. Renewables: The Key Argument That Environmentalists are Missing by Kurt Cobb – 01.23.12

Although here in the Boston area we couldn’t offer definitive proof that it’s winter (a few single digit wind chill days aside)—given that after a surprise few inches of snow here on Halloween weekend, our next accumulation of snow (all of two inches or so) didn’t occur until mid-January …  with just a couple of trivial “storms” since then along with some very nice, mild temperatures such as yesterday’s near-60 degrees—‘tis the season for winter getaways.

Family and business obligations serve as our excuses for upcoming travel. The first trip is to DC, but at the end of February we’ll spend 5 days in Orlando.

That prospect, like most other plans these days, got me thinking about what happens a few years down the road when travel requirements might still be part of at least some portion of the population—business or pleasure.

Both of our trips entail a seven or eight mile drive to and from Boston’s Logan Airport (not a big deal if you avoid the rush-hour-parking-lot-on-the-highway experience) and then round trip (nonstop) flights to both of our destinations. A rental car awaits us on our DC trip, corporate transportation in Orlando.

We figure the fares total about $1500.00 for my wife and I. It’s possible that two of our children will join us on the DC trip, so there’s the potential for added costs.

The nice thing is that we have a number of flight options available at the moment. Both trips afford us multiple nonstop options to and from our destinations, along with a number of other options via connecting flights.

The airline industry, battered though it may be, nonetheless generates tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue. That means a lot of employees, suppliers, suppliers’ employees, airports, airport employees and countless others up and down the supply and service chain depend on daily flights to feed their families and pay their bills. Warmer winter weather down South is usually sufficient incentive all by itself!

As will be the case for us, air travel usually includes hotel stays and some other transportation needs. Travel is indeed a big business. Aside from the airline and airline-related personnel and suppliers mentioned above, restaurants and retailers likewise depend on airline-delivered tourists and business travelers to help pad their bottom lines.

One issue that seems fairly obvious to me is that since no one has yet figured out how to fly planes on anything other than jet fuel—at least commercially and on a mass scale—what happens when refineries decrease the supplies of jet fuel because Peak Oil necessitates basic changes in the allocation and supply of crude oil and its by-products? [Tom Whipple wrote a piece on that very subject just last week.]

Supply and demand operates in the airline industry just as it does most other places in our increasingly global economy. So when demand remains as is, but supplies are harder to come by or much more expensive, what happens then?

How much business planning has even been considered to date, let alone implemented to any degree?

When we start brushing up against the limits of oil production (and I believe we already have) and are left scrounging around for less than ideal substitutes as the years go by, what happens to all of the winter tourist travels to warmer locales? What’s our Plan B?

What gets prioritized and why? Which business industries will insist upon travel priorities and actually get what they need? Who will be making those determinations? How will they and their travel planners deal with fewer flights, fewer hotels, fewer transportation, and fewer dining options?

What happens to business conferences [see my 2011 post on that topic here]. What adaptations and transitions will be required of and from businesses from the small local to the mega-giant internationals when travel and transportation needs are restricted? How quickly does all this planning fall into place if we’re not already starting now?

What happens when even more smaller airports shut down when diminished supply cuts into current demand?

And given the incredible shortsightedness our Congressional leaders routinely display, what transportation alternatives will be in place that won’t prove to be infinitely more inconvenient at best?

What happens when your children now living on an opposite coast are no longer afforded the same reasonable and reasonably-priced options to visit you? Now, booking flights is as simple a process as logging on and ordering up a flight. What happens when there aren’t as many flights, or the remaining ones aren’t as affordable, or conveniently located and scheduled because jet fuel prices have shot the through as a result of basic supply and demand constraints? My oldest friend’s daughter (my godchild) now lives in Colorado. How often will she be able to visit with her siblings and parents here on the East Coast when that travel shoe drops?

Of course, we could just come to a conclusion that jet fuel must remain a refinery priority, and the countless other industries relying on their piece of the refined oil product pie will have to take a number and wait their turn? Volunteers? Doubtful.

And what of all the related transportation services dependent on all these flights: rental cars, limos, taxis, hotels, restaurants, airport gift shops and the like? What happens to them, and their employees, and their suppliers? What kind of plans have been discussed in the boardrooms?

How many employees in each of those industries, each individual business establishment, and each spouse or partner or child dependent on each one of those countless employees might be adversely impacted when those businesses start to feel the serious pinch of declining energy supplies? We’ve already gotten a good taste of how our economy gets hammered by poor business environments … what happens when a failure to plan for alternatives leaves with us poor business and economic environments as the norm?

And what of the ripple effect?

What happens when this air travel decline is extended to hotels and rental cars and all the rest; when rental cars are either much more costly and/or there are less of them to begin with? What happens when the preferred hotels have downsized because business and tourist travel has declined?

Nothing escapes the reach of declining fossil fuel availability, and there is nothing on the horizon which suggests that any substitutes currently in place are anywhere near as plentiful, affordable, or energy efficient as good ‘ol crude oil.

The resource agenda for business leaders
To thrive in an era of higher and more volatile resource prices, companies will need to pay greater attention to resource-related issues in their business strategies. The goal must be to improve a company’s understanding of how resources will affect profits, produce new opportunities for growth and disruptive innovation, create new risks, generate competitive asymmetries, and change the regulatory context. [1]

It won’t happen all at once. Slow leaks are the more likely scenarios played out across countless industries. But if we’re not thinking about these possibilities now, or getting better ideas about what changes will be sure to occur and what options might be available to us as this years-long process unfolds, we’re not giving ourselves much of a chance.

I believe the top three challenges to making progress on solutions are: 1) a lack of public and policy maker knowledge on these issues, and strong resistance to understanding and believing that such a profound threat to everything that many of us hold so dear–our big houses, automobile-centered lifestyles, frequent air travel, access to consumer goods from around the world– is close at hand; 2) very strong vested interests that will oppose changes in their industries and how they do business; and 3) our amazing lack of preparation for what we are facing, after investing in a built environment, food production system, transportation system, and overall economy that is so heavily reliant on cheap and plentiful oil. [2]

Thinking about and planning for these likelihoods before they become monumental problems might not be a bad idea….


[1]; Mobilizing for a resource revolution by Richard Dobbs, Jeremy Oppenheim, and Fraser Thompson – January 2012
[2]; Dealing With Peak Oil by Salvatore Cardoni & Dr. Brian Schwartz – 01.23.10