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….

~ ~ ~

As the first post of this two-part series indicated, not only are there a lot of autos/SUVs on the road today, officials in the know are expecting a whole lot more in the years to come. Using the smallest measure of barrels of oil needed to make one car per the stats I shared suggest that nearly 2 billion barrels of oil are required by the automobile industry worldwide, and that’s just to “make and assemble” each vehicle.

In 2011, the United States consumed about 134 billion gallons (or 3.19 billion barrels) of gasoline, a daily average of about 367.08 million gallons (8.74 million barrels). This was about 6% less than the record high of about 142.38 billion gallons (or 3.39 billion barrels) consumed in 2007. [1]

[T]he United States still constitutes by far the largest vehicle population in the world, with 239.8 million cars. [2]

A back of the envelope calculation suggests that our approximate 3 billion barrels is about one-quarter of worldwide usage. That’s a lot of crude oil drawn from a finite supply, and that’s just for driving.

And then there’s this:

How much oil is required to produce a tire?
 Approximately seven gallons. Five gallons are used as feedstock (from which the substances that combine to form synthetic rubber are derived), while two gallons supply the energy necessary for the manufacturing process.

More back of the envelope math (which I admittedly suck at, so take the totals here with that advisory): 4 tires per vehicle of oil = 28 gallons per car = approx 1.5 barrels of oil per car times more than one billion cars = more than 1.5 billion additional barrels of oil … just for our passenger vehicles.

And among other items inside each of those passenger vehicles: car bumpers (plastic); hoses; wiring; fluids (brake, transmission, motor oil, lubricating grease, etc.); windshield wipers; visors; sound insulation; fan belts; dashboards, and seats. Each depends in some measure on crude oil for their production. Then there’s the transportation of needed materials to the auto manufacturers, and all the crude oil used by all of their suppliers for all of their business needs, and on and on it goes.

How long can we keep this up using a finite resource for just this one (important) product?

~ My Photo: our not-very-fuel-efficient rental courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, CA – Sept 2004


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[1] http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=23&t=10
[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/08/23/car-population_n_934291.html; Number Of Cars Worldwide Surpasses 1 Billion; Can The World Handle This Many Wheels? by Daniel Tencer – 08.23.11 [updated 10.25.11]

** Opening paragraphs adapted from prior posts: