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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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Category: Peak Oil Vision

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One might argue that statistics nearly two years old don’t tell much of a story, but it’s not the numbers in the following quote which matter so much as it is the underlying context and concerns. Those consideration won’t go away. [Production issues since this article was first published aren’t exactly changing the facts much, either.]

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U.S. crude oil production is falling because investments into shale oil production dried up as the price of crude oil fell below $60/bbl. Companies aren’t interested in putting new capital to work, and because these oil fields deplete, that means crude production is falling. Why is that significant? Because most of the world’s new oil production in the past 6 years has come from U.S. shale oil fields. It is hard to overstate the global importance of the new crude supply that came online in the U.S. since 2008

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One day we will run out of oil, it is not today or tomorrow, but one day we will run out of oil and we have to leave oil before oil leaves us, and we have to prepare ourselves for that day. The earlier we start, the better, because all of our economic and social system is based on oil, so to change from that will take a lot of time and a lot of money and we should take this issue very seriously. [quoting Dr Fatih Birol, at that time the chief economist and now Executive Director at the International Energy Agency (IEA)] 

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We have a problem with oil production now—not just here in the United States—and it is not going to get better. The cancellation of exploration and production projects does not occur in a parallel universe! If production is being curtailed, that we have enough today to meet demand is not the beginning and end of supply concerns

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[S]o we have this physical constraint that’s coming because of Peak Oil. There’s nothing we’re going to do about it. We can’t out-clever that. It’s just a constraint, it’s a limitation, there it is. We could manage it well or we can manage it poorly, but it’s there. We have a political system that’s not really geared for the magnitude of the change that we’re seeing, so the most likely outcome is that we’re going to wait, we as a culture are going to wait until we’re forced to deal with this. That’s probably going to come with  disruptions….

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The essential problem is not just that we are tapping the wrong energy sources (though we are), or that we are wasteful and inefficient (though we are), but that we are overpowered, and we are overpowering nature – Richard Heinberg, from the Introduction to ENERGY

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[O]ur Peak Oil problem is a case of simple mathematics.
‘We stopped finding large oil fields 40 years ago. The production from those fields decreases every year and we simply can’t bring enough smaller fields on fast enough to offset those declines and grow daily oil production….
‘The demand side of the equation is no help either. Population grows every year. And the most populous countries in the  world grow per capita oil production every year as well. When you consider how many people are in China, India and other emerging countries and then consider how little oil each of them uses, it isn’t hard to see that changes in their lifestyle to include more oil consumption will make a big difference.’ [quoting John Hess, CEO Hess Corp]

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The painful truth is that with a decline in oil production in the years to come—coupled with increased demand once/if it does in fact increase again—as we’d like to think [hope?], with the realities of reduced investment and research in alternatives tossed into the mix, we’re rendering any prospects for growth and improved well-being nothing but delusional aspirations.

When will there be a pause in denial and the flow of misleading half-truths so that all of us can begin the complex, years-in-the-making processes of adaptation to a world where fossil fuels are not the immediately available source of energy?

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Bear in mind the huge scale of the industry and the production infrastructure required. The vast bulk of production is coming from conventional oilfields, the majority of which are past peak and whose production is in decline. A consideration of the discoveries waiting to be developed and the timescale to put them into production reveals a significant gap, apparent even on close consideration of the work of the IEA, which masks this gap as production that will come from as yet unidentified, undiscovered fields. It is totally unrealistic to anticipate future discoveries on the scale required to fill this gap, given the historical record (especially this century) and the fact that most promising oil provinces have already been well explored and developed.

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It has been a main theme of mine—given the impact peak oil will eventually have on all of us—that small changes here and there, every now and then, by a few of us when we can spare the time, are not the optimal strategies for us to pursue. Conventional crude oil has been in many ways the most astonishing discovery in our history—all the more significant given how its many benefits have extended in so many directions.

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