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Peak Oil Matters

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

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Archive for April, 2015

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While all the buzz surrounds oil prices, the global demand side remains on solid footing: up. Supplying 33% of all energy, oil is the world’s primary fuel. Oil is so important that global demand is ever-growing: 67 million b/d in 1990, 77 million b/d in 2000, and 91 million b/d in 2014. I’ll never understand the animosity of some Westerners toward critical fuels that they depend on everyday, making their lives easier in ways their great grandparents only dreamed of. [1]

Animosity” directed to fossil fuels? Has a nice right-wing playbook buzz to it, but those of us concerned with facts have an annoying habit of insisting that all of them be considered, and that consequences must also find a place at the table where overly-broad statements otherwise prefer being alone. And how exactly does one direct animus toward an energy source which has indeed made it possible for society to enjoy a magnificent history of progress and innovation?

Perhaps that’s not really the object of animus—real or imagined … ya think?

Lower prices lead to decreased investments and efforts by oil producers, which lead to reduced production of fossil fuel resources already more difficult to access and extract….The cumulative effect is that the wondrous increases in demand and the truthful expression that those needs can only be met [so far] by fossil fuels will collide with those other truthful realities as well. It’s difficult to make the math work when dealing with a finite resource and ever-increasing demand.

No legitimate proponent of the need to consider our energy supply challenges [let alone climate change] disputes the awesome numbers bandied about when discussing worldwide resource totals. But true to form, we can’t help ourselves; we just have to go and mention the fact that resources underground or under water are not nearly the same as fuel in hand for our use.

The more difficult, expensive, and challenging production becomes under present-day circumstances, the less relevant those resource totals become. And when that issue comes into play, ever-increasing demands are confronted with the harsh realities that we can no longer just dredge up whatever need when we need it at our preferred prices and for as long as desire.

The same oil industry cheerleader offering up the quote above also added this:

Thanks to derivatives gasoline and diesel fuel, the ongoing dominance of oil in the rapidly expanding vehicle market just now reaching into developing Asia is about as sure a thing as we have in our energy/environment discussion today. If there’s ever going to be common ground between fossil fuel companies, liberals, conservatives, environmental groups, Al Gore, and the Koch bros, the anti-oil crowd HAS to get over that fact.

We already know about oil’s dominance in modern society, so we don’t actually have to “get over” anything. What the anti-fact crowd has to get over is the policy of ignoring facts and reality and recognize that their boasts about oil’s prevalence and the impressive factoid that 3 billion oil-dependent cars on the road in another quarter of a century or so are in the process of contributing a big piece to the mother of all energy supply problems.

Technology and ingenuity—alone or in combination—are not new sources of energy. Earth has what it has in terms of finite resources.

Instead of leading the cheers for the legitimately wonderful ways fossil fuels have served mankind and how dependent we still remain on those same finite resources with all of the attendant modern-day production challenges we’re now confronting, perhaps some of that exuberance and ingenuity might be directed to paving the way for the inevitability that diminishing supply and increasing demand cannot be reconciled except at great and enduring cost.

And while couching all of this as now a “moral issue” has a nice ring to it, it doesn’t add much to intelligent planning and preparation. What’s immoral is to continue to mask the unpleasant realities of supply and production with Happy Talk ideology contributing nothing to the long-term well-being of all of us so that the few benefit at the expense of the many.

~ My [wife’s] Photo: New York City at night – 05.02.12

 

* I invite you to enjoy my two new books [here and here], and to view my other writings at richardturcotte.com
 

 

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Peak Oil Matters is dedicated to informing others about the significance and impact of Peak Oil—while adding observations about politics, ideology, transportation, and smart growth.

 

Sources:

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/judeclemente/2015/04/19/three-reasons-oil-will-continue-to-run-the-world/; Three Reasons Oil Will Continue to Run the World by Jude Clemente – 04.19.15

 

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When you read the literature and compare the arguments as laid out by the two sides, the Peak Oil argument is characterized by logic, rigor, data and hard science – just like the global warming argument a few years back – and the opposing side is characterized by, well, by unbounded faith that markets always work and technology always saves us, by paranoid suspicions that the Peak Oil concept is a plot (by radical tree-huggers or venal oil speculators, take your pick) and by assorted Hail Mary passes. [1]

In my last two posts, I highlighted an ongoing, familiar pattern of commentary and tactics by oil industry cheerleaders. Employing carefully-massaged sets of [at best] partial facts and stock opinions based on … less than partial facts is certainly a successful strategy—if keeping the uninitiated and unknowing public in the dark is the goal.

Sadly, that introductory quote—a nearly six-year-old observation—could have been written last night and would be just as accurate an observation now as it was then. Tax cuts are the surest path to prosperity; trickle-down economics are the key; the Christian Right is under siege; corporations have religious principles; cigarettes cause no harm; climate change is a hoax … cherry-picking a few suspect facts in support, offered up by even more suspect “experts,” is what deniers depend on. They win. We don’t.

If these efforts were consequence-free for the rest of us, most of us concerned about our future energy supplies might join in and applaud the efforts! But consequence-free they are not. A subtle, persistent pattern of misinformation and distraction lulls the public into taking no action. Short term gain for a few, long term pain for all.

Yes, the much-acclaimed ingenuity and technological prowess in which we’ve always taken great pride did indeed spark a substantial and beneficial fossil fuel production boom in recent years.

Yes, there are zillions of barrels of variously-defined “resources” buried here and there on our planet.

“Remember a few years ago when everyone — including the CEO of Russian natural gas company Gazprom of all people — was complaining that oil prices were headed through the roof and that peak oil was upon us? Yeah, I can’t, either. There is still lots of oil left around the world, and ExxonMobil has loads remaining to produce.
Today the company has about 90 billion barrels of estimated recoverable resources; based on its current production rate of 4 million barrels per day, that is more than half a century worth of available production left.” [2]

How clever! How misleading….As I [here] and many others burdened with the annoying need to add a wee bit of information and evidence to these airy comments, “resources” sound fabulous but mean next to nothing without context and those fact-thingys.

How many average citizens with more than enough on their plates already pause to consider the implications of “90 billion barrels of estimated recoverable resources”? Ninety billion anything is a lot, and I am making an assumption that once that term enters consciousness, everything else not part of daily jargon slips past. Likewise “more than half a century worth of available production left” no doubt quells the occasional concern by those having next to no immediate and/or ingoing interest in our energy future.

Problem solved! Except for the part about understanding the vague emptiness of “resources” versus “reserves” and that whole “where is it all located; how much will it cost to get it; can they get it; how long will it take; what happens in the interim,” and assorted other real-life considerations rarely if ever offered by the industry’s cheering squad.

Hard to imagine, but for some of us more-than-casual observers about the state of fossil fuel production now and tomorrow, “…we are just now beginning to scratch the unconventional plays and getting some of those wells down and see what we’ve got going on” [3] is exactly what five seconds’ worth of reflection should lead almost everyone to conclude: Bullshit.

That kind of information might get us through a conversation, but our future is going to depend on a lot more than that. It would be nice if those who actually know shared that with the rest of us, short-term pain notwithstanding. They might consider the advantages of that rather than dealing with the long term consequences of their ongoing campaign to mislead and deny.

 

~ My Photo: A Different View – Gloucester MA 10.03.14

 

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gabriel-rotello/the-new-york-times-on-pea_b_270347.html; The New York Times on Peak Oil – Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Gabriel Rootlet – 09.27.09
[2] http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2014/10/06/5-things-exxonmobils-management-wants-you-to-know.aspx; 5 Things ExxonMobil’s Management Wants You to Know by Tyler Crowe – 10.14.14
[3] Ibid. [quoting David S. Rosenthal, ExxonMobil’s Vice President of Investor Relations and Secretary]

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A near-perfect example in the continuing line of cherry-picked, mostly fact- and context-free Happy Talk about U.S. oil production came courtesy of this Tyler Crowe article several months ago. (The title “America Has Saved the World From a Global Oil Crisis” is just a bonus … aren’t we wonderful all the time!)
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