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Peak Oil Matters

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


Archive for May, 2013

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An observation worth noting … and pondering, from Michel Desjardins:

We have become increasingly aware that there are fundamental constraints to ongoing economic expansion, that perpetual growth on a finite planet is a fool’s dream.
If Peak Oil is here – and there is solid evidence showing that it is – then it means we have begun to run up against the planet’s natural constraints. Mother Nature has begun to tell us that the party is over.
It’s an uncomfortable thought, but one that can no longer be ignored.
We can no longer assume that decades of economic and population growth based on ever-increasing rates of resource extraction, manufacturing, and consumption can continue….
Peak Oil is a problem like no other….
It is truly a game-changer….
Communities that are quick to recognize the problem stand a better chance of weathering the storm….
We need to find ways to dramatically reduce our dependence on fossil fuel energies, start promoting local agriculture, alternative methods of transportation and energy efficiency.
Bottom line: we need to build our community’s capacity to adapt to a very different world.

The article from which that quote was extracted is more than two years old, and was written by a Canadian. [The link may no longer be accessible.] I don’t recall that the author of that piece had any connection to the oil industry, but his assessment then was no less accurate. It has greater significance now.

There continues to be a great deal of hype about fracking and tight oil, with some now convinced that Peak Oil is “dead.” Of course, when your commentary about all of this increased production neglects to mention much, if anything, about the downside of this path to energy independence, it’s easy to dismiss reality.

There’s no doubt that the production increases from shale have caused a noteworthy surge in production. But that’s only half the story, although it’s clearly the happier side. What the cheerleaders fail to tell us time and again is that there’s an eye-opening rate of depletion in the tight oil fields. More rigs and wells are needed just to stay even, and none of them are free. In fact, they cost a great deal more than do conventional wells.

There are also solid indications about water contamination, not to mention the incredible amounts of water needed in the process to begin with. The integrity-free failure to disclose the chemical compounds used in fracking isn’t exactly a plus, either. Those are just a few of the annoying facts which tarnish all that happy talk.

And as is true of conventional crude production, most of the “good spots” have been found and tapped. More expense, more effort, and more risk is now the norm. That’s not a winning formula for continuing production increases. Losing money tends not to be a primary objective for most oil producers. When the losses start piling up and investors start backing away, it’s a bit of a challenge to maintain any decent levels of production.

And so the end result is that Peak Oil indeed remains a “game-changer.” The more of us who recognize this by slicing through the Happy Talk to understand the full story and not just the cherry-picked good parts, the sooner we can start the necessary discussions about what to do. Many of those important conversations and plans will have to occur at the local levels. The federal government will have a role to play, but we can’t turn the keys over to it and assume all will be well.

Crisis? Opportunity? I’m a fan of Option B.

[NOTE: Traveling the rest of this week. Next posting on Monday, June 3]

~ My Photo: Good Harbor Beach, MA – 07.10.10

Look for my new website, coming soon!







An observation worth noting … and pondering, from Al Gore:

Have we gone completely nuts?
We haven’t gone nuts — but the ‘conversation of democracy’ has become so deeply dysfunctional that our ability to make intelligent collective decisions has been seriously impaired. Throughout American history, we relied on the vibrancy of our public square — and the quality of our democratic discourse — to make better decisions than most nations in the history of the world. But we are now routinely making really bad decisions that completely ignore the best available evidence of what is true and what is false. When the distinction between truth and falsehood is systematically attacked without shame or consequence — when a great nation makes crucially important decisions on the basis of completely false information that is no longer adequately filtered through the fact-checking function of a healthy and honest public discussion — the public interest is severely damaged.

The former Vice President was speaking of climate change when he wrote those words, but the observation is surely applicable to the state of our national (and state) political “conversations,”, and they are every bit as relevant in the discussions about the future of our energy supplies.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sparked a bit of controversy in her farewell to the State Department several months back when she offered comments on the Senate hearings at which she  had testified by observing that her critics “[J]ust will not live in an evidence-based world.”

The rampant nonsense we’re all subjected to serves an interest; it’s just not a particularly honorable, decent, or even remotely ethical one. This is a good thing? Citizens are now routinely subjected to a tedious spate of half-truths, context-free “facts,” smooth assurances, and arguments straight from carefully-crafted playbooks which further the interests of a very small group—and only those groups. Why?

Shale oil/gas production is not nearly the panacea industry shills are making them out to be. Increases in U.S. production are wonderful advances, but without the necessary context which informs us that conventional supplies continue their inexorable depletion and decline; that shale wells decline at even faster rates (to say nothing of their assorted other concerns, as I explain in a series which began here); that what is now being produced is of a lesser “quality,” and that exporting nations are keeping more of their own supplies, exporting smaller amounts. Most citizens don’t have the familiarity or expertise to think about such things, but those less-than-pleasant truths matter … a lot!

Why can’t industry officials and their media outlets share all the facts about fossil fuel production and supply issues so that the public has not only a greater understanding about the challenges we face, but can also begin to act now to address the problems intelligently by working with the officials and organizations and industries whose assistance will be critically important in helping us all to adapt?

That statement is no doubt viewed by many as both naive and idealistic, but why should telling the truth and respecting those who depend on others for information and guidance be anything other than simply the right thing to do?

~ My Photo: Good Harbor Beach, MA – 10.22.07

Look for my new website, coming soon!







An observation worth noting … and pondering, from Jorge Madrid, Kate Gordon, Tina Ramos:

The United States’ prolonged unwillingness to develop a long-term, sustainable energy strategy has left us with a daunting challenge—the need to run a 21st century economy using 20th century energy sources and infrastructure. Our energy choices, or lack thereof due to the dominance of fossil fuels, have caused irreparable damage to the environment and public health, have caused our country to forego countless economic opportunities, and have made us far more vulnerable to fossil fuel price volatility than ever before. Not to mention that our relentless inaction on climate change mitigation and adaptation has left every state’s communities, local economies, and natural resources at risk.

And this is a problem? Imagine that!

It’s fine to have our own philosophical and ideological beliefs. At some point, however, those positions collide with facts. When that happens, as it invariably does, decisions have to be made. Better they be made with knowledge of and understanding those facts.

With that as the base, one can decide on the merits whether it’s best to stand on principle no matter what, or find a means to preserve the beliefs which matter most while adapting to the realities at hand. Failure to make compromises when needed can leave one with beliefs intact and no viable means of expressing them to anyone other than the person in the mirror.

We have some energy supply matters, and we have a warming planet. The facts are there for all to see. Choosing to deny them all; seeking some irrational basis about conspiracies instead; or following the lead of “leaders” who increasingly have an agenda very different than that of their constituents … there are consequences to each and all of those options. They’re inevitable.

There will only be so many more opportunities for us—collectively—to set aside the ideologies and deal with the facts about our energy supply and warming planet. Failure to take the time now to understand all of the considerations, not just the ones which make us feel better and less discomfited by what’s at stake and what roles we must play, will leave us with no option but to endure painful, stringent adaptations forced upon us. That’s not nearly as good an option as it sounds.

How much longer should we rely on a decision-making process marked by selected, self-serving facts as the sole basis for acting in our own—and our children’s—best interests now and in the many years to come? We own the choice….

~ My Photo: Korean War Memorial, Washington, D.C. – 08.30.03

Look for my new website, coming soon!






An observation worth noting … and pondering, from John James Audubon:

A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

Sage advice for those of with children (or just care about them). All the more pointed when those of us who have had opportunities to seriously consider at least some of the major issues of the day appreciate the great likelihood that significant changes loom. More to the point: we also appreciate how widespread the impacts will be, how unprepared most of us are, and how poorly informed most of us are because others are making conscious decisions to keep it that way.

Not a good scenario.

As I and others take great pains to state over and over: the facts under, on, and above ground suggest that declining energy supplies and a warming planet are going to create great burdens and thus great challenges for all of us. Blame, reasons, causes are incidental. The facts are the facts. Cherry-pick what you will; ignore; deny; gloss over; believe what you will about ingenuity and technology. None of it will matter in the long-run (which is now a shorter long-run).

It is high time that those who lead, those who know, and those who care take steps now to begin learning what they must, planning for what they can, and teaching/informing others so that we gradually but surely move the inhabitants of the only planet we have onto paths providing all of us with our best chances to enjoy some reasonable measures of peace, prosperity, and well-being  in a future sure to be vastly different from the familiar past.

Idealistic to be sure, but I prefer this approach to guide me: I have great faith in our abilities to do these things, and I remain convinced this is far more an opportunity than a crisis.

But the clock is ticking….

NOTE: Traveling the rest of this week for our second daughter’s college graduation. I’ll be back with more posts next week

~ My Photo: Good Harbor Beach, MA – 11.06.07









Oil plays an essential role in almost everything that touches our everyday lives. From the food we eat to the means by which we transport ourselves, our goods, and our services, to what we grow, build, have, own, need, and do, oil is almost always an important element. But the painful truth now and soon is that the ready supply of oil and gas that we almost always take for granted is on its way to becoming not-so-ready—recent production increases notwithstanding.

What happens when there’s not enough to meet all of our demands, to say nothing of those of every other nation—including the many countries seeking more growth and prosperity? What sacrifices will we be called upon to make? Which products will no longer be as readily available? Which services? Who decides? What will be decided? Who delivers that message to the designers and producers and shippers and end users? What’s their Plan B? And how will we respond when decisions are taken out of our hands? Where exactly will the dominoes tumble?

There is nothing on the horizon that will work as an adequate substitute for the efficiencies and low cost and ease of accessibility that oil has provided us. We simply do not have the means to make that happen—not the technological capabilities, not the personnel, not the industries, not the leadership … yet. Clearly, we do not have enough time to do it all with effortless ease and minimal disruptions.

Piecemeal approaches that address some small aspect of need for some short period of time in some limited geographical area for just a few consumers is in the end a monumental waste of limited resources, time, and effort. We can’t wait until we’re up to our eyeballs in Peak Oil’s impact to start figuring out what to do. We’re too close as it is. We’re going to have to be much better, much wiser, and much more focused. **

Here’s the latest contribution to my Peak Oil’s Impact series—observations and commentary on how Peak Oil’s influence will be felt in little, never-give-it-thought, day-to-day aspects of the conventional crude oil-based Life As We’ve Known It. Changes in all that we do, use, own, make, transport, etc., etc., are inevitable. A little food for thought….

I don’t need a watch or a clock weekday mornings to know when it’s eight o’clock. All I need to do is peek outside my office window at home and watch the procession of automobiles queuing up in front of our home. It begins about five minutes before eight, and ten minutes later, the long line of cars has vanished.

For comical relief, watching the procession of cars inch up the long hill (which is essentially all that my street is) is especially amusing when it’s snowing. Freezing rain is a hoot!

About one hundred feet to the left of my house is a fairly busy residential intersection, all the more so at morning rush hour. One block over is my town’s only middle school. Three blocks to the west is one of a half-dozen or so elementary schools. The intersection is a short break from hill climbing. The elementary school sits even farther up the hill from where I am. So when most cars are stuck in traffic at the nearby intersection in snow and ice, we’re usually serenaded by the sounds of wheels spinning to gain any traction at all. On more than a few occasions, drivers have turned around and risked driving back down the hill in those same conditions because they simply cannot gain enough traction to continue the climb.

It’s not nearly as much fun as it seems, given that we face the same dilemma as soon as we back out of our driveway: skate downhill or hope we find a sweet spot on the road which enables us to make the climb.

Almost all of these morning drivers are dropping their children off at one/both of the neighborhood schools. Our town does not supply bus transportation for most students. Many walk to and from the two schools, but others can’t or don’t for whatever reason. No doubt these similar scenes play out who knows how many millions of times each and every school day across the country.

And we’re back to the standard question I’ll continue to ask until we collectively start finding answers: When the supply of depleting conventional crude oil continues to decline, and reliance turns to the inadequate supply of inferior quality, more expensive, harder to come by unconventional sources such as the tight shale formations in the U.S. and the Canadian tar sands cheered on by certain factions of the energy and media industries, what gets prioritized in our own homes and in our communities when dealing with transporting our children to and from school?

What adjustments will even higher prices and less availability of transportation fuels oblige us all to make in this most routine of daily parenting rituals? If walking/biking is not an option for whatever reasons, what’s our Plan B for getting our children to and from school each day? What’s the local school system’s plan? Teachers own transportation issues?

I’m thinking we’ll need more than a school committee meeting or two to figure this out. When might we start thinking about this issue (the list is growing)?

~ My Photo: our son and a friend parasailing – 02.22.05 [not a travel option!]

** Opening paragraphs adapted from prior posts:







An observation worth noting … and pondering, from Richard Heinberg:

The oil problem can be summed up simply: Fossil fuel supply boosters know how to add, but they’ve forgotten how to subtract. Seeing new production coming on line from North Dakota, for example, they extrapolate this growth trend far into the future and forecast oil independence for the nation. But most US oilfields are seeing declining rates of production, and individual wells in North Dakota have especially rapid decline rates (up to 90 percent in the first year). Do the subtraction properly, and it’s plain that net supplies will continue growing only if drilling rates climb exponentially. That, again, spells higher production costs and higher oil prices. If the economy cannot support higher prices, and hence high drilling rates, then net total rates of production will drop. The one future that is impossible to achieve in any realistic scenario—low prices and high production rates—is precisely what is being promised by politicians and oil industry PR hacks.

Glossing over facts, details, reality … favored strategies for those whose livelihood depends on maintaining the illusion that our oil supply problems have gone the way of the dinosaurs. It succeeds in large part because we’re conditioned to diminish if not completely ignore/deny problems which don’t seem to be fully-formed today, or are simply too large with so much potential for havoc to wrap our minds around them.

Those advocates of nearly-unlimited oil abundance and energy independence at last mention the  high oil prices supporting the great shale/tight oil boom and then quickly zoom off into elaborate assessments of why the Peak Oil “theory” is still so much nonsense. But let’s back the bus up just a bit.

High oil prices are the very reason why the oil industry is going great guns in exploring and extracting the “vast” reserves here in the United States. How many of us non-oil industry officials are similarly delighted by high oil prices? For those of us who still consider basic math to be part of the world we live in and subject to exactly zero dispute about its usefulness, when we are allocating larger portions of a fixed budget on one necessity, less is available for everything else. This is a good thing for us?

Our standard response is that we all start cutting back here and there, including how much fossil fuel we use. And if you are are a seller, and fewer people are buying what you sell, keeping prices high isn’t exactly a winning strategy. So Mr. Seller drops his prices to entice more of you to buy his stuff, and the dominoes begin to tumble.

And when oil prices drop, Mr. Oil Seller stops investing and producing and extracting, just as Richard Heinberg explained. And when Mr. Oil Seller isn’t supplying the same amounts, oil abundance stops being oil abundance.

It’s really not that complicated once both sides of the story are offered to us for consideration. Who benefits when only part of the story is told? It’s not me, and I’m pretty damn certain it’s not you, either.

Perhaps some honest discussion and a bit of planning might be a good idea?

~ My Photo: Coffins Beach, Gloucester MA – 07.27.10

I’m passing along some useful/informative Peak Oil-related articles of note [and some political ones, too, which in one way or another will have considerable bearing on what we do and don’t do as Peak Oil makes its presence felt], all of which crossed my desk during the prior month … in case you missed them!


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Commentary: Interview with Steve Kopits
[Original article published by ASPO-USA: by Steve Andrews]

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Lawrence Davidson
Why Americans Are So Ignorant — It’s Not Only Fox News, There Are Some Understandable Reasons for it

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Charles P. Pierce
The Keystone XL Pipeline’s Bad Week

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Bret Schulte
Oil Spill Spotlights Keystone XL Issue: Is Canadian Crude Worse?

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Anthony Ingraffea, Mark Ruffalo
Don’t Frack Illinois (or North Carolina, Georgia, Maryland, New York, Virginia, or Florida)

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Ian Cooper
Peak Oil Not Dead: America’s Next Top Gamble

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Kurt Cobb
Aging giant oil fields, not new discoveries are the key to future oil supply

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Peak oil and peak silliness

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Jonathan Bernstein
The Republican Party is officially broken

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Scot Faulkner and Jonathan Riehl
Republicans’ uncivil war

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E.J. Dionne
The End Of Majority Rule?

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William Boardman
14 Things You Need to Know About the Horrifying Arkansas Oil Spill

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Sharon Kelly
More Financial Worries Coming to Light in Domestic Shale Drilling Industry

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Brad Bannon
Americans Hate Congress Because Congress Doesn’t Care About Americans

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Ed Kilgore
Extremist Ideology Feeds GOP Dysfunction

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Andrew McKay
5 Reasons Why Oil Companies Get Away With Overblown Field Estimates

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Gail Tverberg
Peak Oil Demand is Already a Huge Problem

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Brad Plumer
Peak oil isn’t dead: An interview with Chris Nelder

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Gail Tverberg
How Oil Exporters Reach Financial Collapse

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Matthieu Auzanneau
Total production by the top five oil majors has fallen by a quarter since 2004

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Richard E Vodra, JD, CFP
Looking Back at Peak Oil: The Coming Crisis in Energy Supplies

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[no attribution]
“We Will Never Run out of Oil” … somehow is not about oil.

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