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The ongoing saga of Royal Dutch Shell’s efforts to move the crippled drill rig Kulluk were summed up in a very nice piece written last week by Dan Joling at the Huffington Post.

Explaining that the efforts are taking place during “the worst of the North Pacific’s fury” is probably all you need to know. But since the reality of our fossil fuel exploration challenges has not turned on all the light bulbs in some quarters, it’s worth mentioning a few other tidbits Mr. Joling offered. [And let’s keep in mind this is being attempted near the Arctic, in the ocean, in January. The “rescue efforts” were in fact successfully completed a few days after Joling’s article.]

If the drill ship can be pulled from the rocks off Sitkalidak Island, it will be towed 30 miles to shelter in Kodiak Island’s Kiliuda Bay, a cove about 43 miles southeast of the city of Kodiak.
The Kulluk is a circular barge 266 feet in diameter with a funnel-shaped, reinforced steel hull that allows it to operate in ice. One of two Shell ships that drilled last year in the Arctic Ocean, it has a 160-foot derrick rising from its center and no propulsion system of its own.

I’ll be the first to admit I know absolutely nothing about towing drill rigs, or towing anything at all, actually. If pulling my two-year old daughter in her red wagon a couple of decades ago counts, then I have some towing experience, but that would pretty much be all of it. Notwithstanding, none of what Mr. Joling explained strikes me as anything other than immensely complex and risky.

The article explains that the rig was en route to Seattle when the anchor line broke. Four re-attached lines running from the Kulluk to several ships “also broke in stormy weather.” To uniformed me, that would suggest some serious travel issues. Four lines broke? Just to help matters along, four engines failed in the ship originally charged with the tow. That same ship was back for round two. That must have been a lot of fun, during “the worst of the North Pacific’s fury” … near the Arctic, in the ocean, in January.

Can’t imagine that a rig stuck on a “rocky bottom” would pose all that much trouble, in … “the worst of the North Pacific’s fury,” near the Arctic, in the ocean, in January. The good news is that “More than 600 people [are] working on the recovery.” All for one rig mind you. Must be nice to have so many extra hands on deck, so to speak. Can’t imagine the costs involved in all that manpower would run more than a few thousand dollars or so, right?

Quoting Dan Magone, president of Magone Marine, who expressed doubts that the efforts will be a simple matter by any definition, and whose company’s own salvage efforts for two other disabled vessels are on hold for several more months:

‘The insurance company doesn’t want to pay any more money than they have to to get the wrecks out of there, so why risk our equipment and our crew and spend a thousand percent more money playing around in the wintertime when you can just wait until the weather’s good and do it then?’

Magone also added:

‘Of course with a big fiasco like this, there’s all kinds of pressure and everything. But there’s a limit to what you can do.’

Can’t argue with that logic or his expertise. So what does that say about the efforts required for the Kulluk?

And just to add a tiny concern, Mr. Joling offered this:

Shell has reported superficial damage above the deck and seawater within that entered through open hatches. Water has knocked out regular and emergency generators, but portable generators were put on board Friday.
The condition of the hull will be key in determining whether the Kulluk can be refloated.

So before the public signs off on the Happy Talk oil industry officials and their media shills offer them about the “vast” this or that in the Arctic and elsewhere that is ours but for federal regulations and the nefarious motivations of our America-hating-out-to-destroy-us-all-just-for-kicks President and his Administration, it might be worth asking:

This is what the oil industry is resorting to in order to supply us with oil? I wonder why?

Answers—the ones supported by facts and reality—aren’t all that hard to find.

~ My Photo: a slightly calmer winter ocean at Long Beach, MA 03.17.10

Yet another in the seemingly endless string of cherry-picked story lines attempting to put to rest the “theory” of Peak Oil has found its way onto the internet, completely unremarkable in the talking points offered, which I’ll get to. What was most striking was not so much the uniform lack of understanding on the part of all but a handful of commenters.

The blatant, racist stupidity of several caught me completely by surprise. I didn’t think that offensive nonsense had found its way into the Peak Oil conversation, but Racist Ignorance is alive and well in this arena, unfortunately. But any forum will do, I guess….And the relevance of that conversation to Peak Oil is … what?) In this day and age, that moronic tripe still flourishes … amazing! (And of course, the continuing nonsense about the fascist-socialist-Kenyan-Muslim President out to destroy America hasn’t abated any, judging by some of the other comments.) Ironic that those who lament and fear what this nation is coming to fail to appreciate the fact that the paranoid garbage they parrot is a primary cause and symptom. Each and all of us need to be better than this. We’ll need no less in the years to come.

I probably should not be as stunned (and dismayed) as I was, given the nonsense that passes for mush of the political discourse today, but it is striking to see how many people seem utterly incapable of stepping back and considering a bit of reality, even if it is at the expense of a carefully-tended, fear-based ideology. The commentary tarnished my optimism, but only temporarily. Best not to give that ignorance any more attention….

A sampling of what that article had to offer, beginning with the almost-obligatory snarky comment passing for relevance to the discussion [my bold/italic]:

‘With only 2% of the world’s oil reserves, we can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices,‘ [President Obama] said. ‘Not when we consume 20% of the world’s oil.’
The claim makes it appear as though the U.S. is an oil-barren nation, perpetually dependent on foreign oil and high prices unless we can cut our own use and develop alternative energy sources like algae.

Nice touch … bona fides duly established. But just in case there’s doubt, we start with the magic words [my bold/italic] from Page One of the Deniers’ Playbook [see this]:

[F]ar from being oil-poor, the country is awash in vast quantities — enough to meet all the country’s oil needs for hundreds of years.

And then more selective facts, without context or even a bit of accompanying, vital information to educate and inform. Only a handful of knowledgeable commenters bothered to discuss the claims and provide missing context, given that most of them were much too focused on slamming the aforementioned socialist-Muslim yadda, yadda, yadda. How does perpetuating ignorance and/or lack of understanding help in any way?

A sampling [my bold/italic]:

At least 86 billion barrels of oil in the Outer Continental Shelf yet to be discovered, according to the government’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

About 24 billion barrels in shale deposits in the lower 48 states, according to EIA.

Up to 2 billion barrels of oil in shale deposits in Alaska’s North Slope, says the U.S. Geological Survey.

Up to 12 billion barrels in ANWR, according to the USGS.

As much as 19 billion barrels in the Utah tar sands, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

Then, there’s the massive Green River Formation in Wyoming, which according to the USGS contains a stunning 1.4 trillion barrels of oil shale — a type of oil released from sedimentary rock after it’s heated.

When you include oil shale, the U.S. has 1.4 trillion barrels of technically recoverable oil, according to the Institute for Energy Research, enough to meet all U.S. oil needs for about the next 200 years, without any imports.

For starters, Chris Nelder recently offered a healthy dose of reality about shale.

Even those with no knowledge about oil production whatsoever might find some reasonable answers to these questions: How difficult might it be to find, extract, and then produce oil from near the North Pole? Think there might be an issue or two? Perhaps some weather concerns? Maybe just a bit more expensive? More difficult? Riskier? Might take a while, too.

As for “a type of oil released from sedimentary rock after it’s heated”: kerogen is not exactly the same thing as the oil we’ve all seen gushing from wells. Despite several decades of effort, it’s still not a commercially feasible enterprise. And the “after it’s heated” part is just a bit more complicated that the author bothers to explain. [See this, for example.] But inconvenient facts just get in the way….

Perhaps as remarkable as anything, however, was this statement by the author, which almost all of his commenters failed to mention or apparently even notice:

To be sure, energy companies couldn’t profitably recover all this oil — even at today’s prices — and what they could wouldn’t make it to market for years.

See … that’s kinda the whole problem with being “awash” in “vast” quantities….A bazillion barrels of anything buried underground, or in the Arctic, or otherwise not extracted by conventional means will stay right there if there’s no profit to be made. High prices might of course make some companies willing to go for it, but what wasn’t mentioned is the fact that high costs on their end means higher prices for us consumers (even the ignorant, racist ones). That’s not a good thing, and thus not especially helpful.

Telling someone that within walking distance of their home are millions and millions of dollars in local banks is all fine and well. But if that someone can’t get any of it, the amounts stop being impressive fairly quickly. Vast quantities of inferior, unconventional oil tucked away for many more decades is not any different. Impressive totals, but mostly useless to us. Those kinds of added facts would be ever-so-helpful to the many who clearly do not yet appreciate the challenges of Peak Oil.

And not making it “to market for years” … that’s kinda problematic, too. See, shocking as it is, conventional fields—the ones we’ve been tapping into for decades now—are depleting. Every day. They’re not limitless. Worldwide demand is increasing. More of those conventional crude supplies are also being kept by the producers to satisfy demands in their own countries. More for them, less for us. Easy math!

As I and others in the know point out day after day: the United States uses in the neighborhood of 18 million barrels of oil per day, about half of which we still import. Getting all of these inferior, unconventional supplies (and shale, tar sands, etc. are most definitely not the same as conventional crude) to a point where they will meet just our demands, let alone contribute to world supply, is decades away at best, if ever. And all the while, worldwide demand is still increasing and existing fields are still depleting.

These magical supplies Mr. Merline speaks of are harder to get to (thus more expensive); they require more refining (thus more expensive); their rate of production is much less than the ever-dwindling supplies of conventional crude; the energy efficiency quality is not the same; and in general, much more time, effort, expense, and risk is required to produce what’s left. This is good news?

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.]

Sources:

[1] http://peakoil.com/consumption/the-energy-prophet/; The energy prophet – Peter Tertzakian’s conversation with Derek Brower, October 28, 2010 (original article at http://www.petroleum-economist.com/default.asp?page=14&PubID=46&ISS=25702&SID=727276
[2] http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20110310/pl_afp/mideastunrestuseconomypoliticsoil; US Republicans assail Obama as gas prices rise – March 10, 2011
[3] http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/2011/03/oil-a-commodity-traded-on-a-global-marketplace/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+matthewyglesias+%28Matthew+Yglesias%29; Oil: A Commodity Traded On A Global Marketplace – March 11, 2011
[4] http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/08/a-dark-warning-on-global-oil-demand/#more-94428; A Dark Warning on Global Oil Demand By Clifford Krauss – March 8, 2011
[5] http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2010-11-25/how-sustainable-renewable-energy; How sustainable is renewable energy? by Roger Adair – November 25, 2010

In two posts (here and here) written several months ago, I discussed once again the unfortunate truth that there remains a determined effort by some to either completely discount the reality of declining oil production, or who skate along the edges of truth by resorting to combinations of disingenuous arguments or incomplete facts.

Three articles in particular from the past week or so jumped out as more evidence that this disinformation campaign continues. One was a piece originally from a right-wing website with its irony-rich title of American Thinker; another, a predictably one-sided article from the Wall Street Journal, and the third an op-ed from U.S. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

In a post I wrote last October, I suggested it was important that we continue to call out those in the media, industry, or government whose preferred truth-telling strategies are to … not be entirely truthful.

While very few of them enter into the Senator Jon Kyl fact-free world of blatant lies, I remain puzzled by their continuing unwillingness and/or inability to deal with the facts. It seems entirely logical that if one is attempting to come up with solutions of any kind to deal with specific challenges or problems, it’s much easier to fashion effective approaches if you aren’t making stuff up in the first instance!

The American Thinker author set out to extol us all on the virtues of “recent advances in oil-extraction technologies such as fracking (the high-pressure injection of sand, water, and small amounts of chemicals into rock or other formation to loosen up the oil and separate it from the surrounding rock).” The fact that a new report came out at the same time indicating that carcinogens have been used as part of this wondrous fracking technology never made it into this body of work. But one man’s “large quantities of carcinogens” is probably another’s “small amounts.” As long as it doesn’t affect him personally, does it really matter?

The moratoriums which several states have imposed on fracking until its environmental consequences can be more fully explored (to say nothing of potential earthquake-causing effects some are now worried about) likewise seem to have escaped this author’s attention. Damned facts….But, hey, what are a few silly carcinogens, water-table contaminations, and earthquakes when you’re discussing profits, right?

This author then touted the magic of Canadian tar sands. Correctly stating that Canada is now our biggest supplier of oil, the author then proceeded to misstate by a mere 40% or so the amount of oil we use each day (“eleven million barrels” when in fact we use closer to nineteen million … that’s Jon Kyl-fact territory). He then ramped up by castigating those who oppose a new pipeline project which “would have the capacity to give us yet another 1.1 million barrels a day from our kindly cousins in the Great White North.” Wow! Now I can buy a Hummer!

His objection is straight-forward: “The environmentalist beef with the project is that the oil the Canadians will ship through the pipeline is be extracted from the reserves in their vast ranges of tar sands. These reserves are huge — on the order of 175 billion barrels of oil, which makes for more than two-thirds of Saudi Arabia’s proven reserves. But the environmentalists fear that the after-products of the tar sand oil extraction will harm the environment.”

Nice to just glide over the facts … all of them, about how tar sands production takes place, or the actual environmental degradation which results from production; the immense demands on two other finite resources—natural gas and water—required in the process; the costs, effort, and/or time involved in extracting oil from the tar sands; the fact that production rates aren’t all that impressive—certainly much less than what had originally been envisioned, or the poisonous tailing ponds left behind.

For some reason, the following is expected to be reassuring: “However, it is both presumptuous and silly for American environmentalists to oppose this joint project to ship Canadian oil. First, it is not as if Canada were a corrupt, third-world dictatorship where the leaders are willing to despoil their own country for some low-end cash. The Canadians have a fine record on environmental protection (as good as our own, in fact. And they have gotten the extraction process for tar-sand oil very ecologically safe. Over 80% of the water used in the extraction process is recycled, and the ‘trailing ponds’ [sic] (which contain the remains of the extraction process) are being planted over with trees and shrubbery.” I guess the birds which otherwise die when they land in the ponds will now have a place to roost, until the trees die.

I won’t quibble with Canada’s environmental efforts in general. Canadian environmental standards are indeed quite admirable. And it will be a while before I completely grasp how Canada’s not being a “corrupt, third-world dictatorship” is relevant to consequences already on record. But to lump what happens in and around the tar sands regions of Alberta with the country’s entire enviro protection record is a disingenuous-at-best attempt to skate past the facts about higher cancer rates, afore-mentioned poisonings of water fowl, the water contamination, etc. I guess in a fact-free world, those are all “ecologically safe” outcomes.

Besides, we have good news according to the writer: “[T]hese tar sands are already laden with petrochemicals to begin with!”

And to end his argument on a high note, the writer claims that the “green dreamers” who stand in the way of all the jobs created and taxes to be paid if the pipeline project were to go through (as opposed to alternative energy research and production, which I guess must result from job-free invisible gnomes and benevolent, tax-exempt industries) are nothing more than environmental crazies who “oppose all sources of energy known to work, and they support only sources of energy proven to be inefficient.”

Yep! That’s us, all right. We love to spend all our time and money on things we know just won’t work at all because … because we’re … ah, you know, “green dreamers.” Yikes!

The Wall Street Journal article highlighted an interview with John Watson, Chevron’s CEO. The reporter wasted little time in blaming President Obama for following in the footsteps of his predecessors by “peddling an America free of fossil fuels” and “closing off more acreage to drilling, pouring money into green energy, pushing new oil company taxes, instituting anticarbon regulations,” asserting that “America is going backward on affordable energy.” The advantage of two-week-long visionary thinking….

Mr. Watson boasted of an unnamed Chevron oil field in the Bakersfield, California area which at one time was providing “only 10 or 20” barrels of oil for “every 100 barrels of oil ‘in place,’” and “thanks to a new technology called steam flooding, Chevron is now getting 70 to 80 barrels.” I’m guessing he was referring to the Kern River oil field, which as of a few years ago had an estimated reserve of approximately 475 million barrels of oil, and has been producing for more than one hundred years!

Unfortunately, the math portion of the explanation was omitted. World-wide, oil demand is about 85 million barrels per day. About 18 or 19 million of that is here in the U.S. Quick math: That field has about a 5 or 6 day world-wide supply, or less than a month’s supply if we kept it all to ourselves. No mention of how quickly Chevron can drain the field. Probably not an inexpensive undertaking, either. Facts! Who needs ‘em? (See this Oil Drum article for more information.)

The WSJ piece then proclaimed the wondrous fact that “Over the past 30 years, even as ‘peak oil’ was a trendy theme, the world’s proven reserves of oil and natural gas increased 130%, to 2.5 trillion barrels.” Space limitations probably prevented the writer or Mr. Watson from explaining anything about costs, efforts, time factors for production, ease of access, or the fact that for several decades now, we’ve been using several times more oil each year than is being discovered.

“Mr. Watson has little time for the Beltway fiction that America will soon be able to do without, or nearly without, fossil fuels. Yes, ‘we need all forms of energy.’ But the world consumes 250 million barrels of energy equivalent today, only a ‘tiny fraction of which’ is wind and solar—and even those ‘are not affordable at scale,’ he says.” I can only assume space limitations once again prevented the author or Mr. Watson from explaining just why that is. It would take a few extra paragraphs to explain how diligently the oil industry has fought attempts to devote investment dollars into alternative energy research or just how much they contribute to campaign coffers to ensure Big Oil occupies a large place on political radar screens and subsidy legislation.

“Bottom line: ‘We’re going to need oil and gas and coal for a long time if America wants to keep the lights on.’” Not exactly a solution, but if the nation’s leaders refuse to commit the resources needed to transition away from a declining, finite supply of fossil fuel, then Mr. Watson is correct in a perverse, lack-of-vision kinda way.

“As for soaring oil prices, Mr. Watson blames growing demand, tighter supply, Mideast uncertainty and inflation.” Hmmm … “growing demand, tighter supply?” Why, that sounds like signs of Peak Oil!

“That pretty much sums up the broader choice America faces on energy policy. It can listen to the Washington siren song on alternative energy, pouring scarce dollars into green subsidies, driving up the cost of energy, and driving out U.S. manufacturing and jobs. Or it can embrace our own fossil fuel resources, which are cheap and plentiful.”

“Cheap and plentiful?” Really? I suppose on a fact-free planet that’s true. And like the American Thinker above, it would appear that a massive expansion of research and production into alternative sources of energy would also presumably occur only as a result of job-free efforts by invisible gnomes and benevolent, tax-exempt industries. Geez! Just curious, but why haven’t these “cheap and plentiful” supplies been produced already, inexpensively and quickly (even during Republican administrations)?

“What I see are people who want affordable energy,” says Mr. Watson. “They want strong environmental standards—they want a lot of things—but first and foremost they want affordable energy. And if you want affordable energy, you want oil, gas and coal.”

By all means, let’s continue to ignore Peak Oil and do absolutely nothing to plan for alternatives. Affordable Energy No Matter What The Cost! would make a fine bumper sticker! We’re entitled to what we want because we’re exceptional. Let’s not forget that. Besides, if we’re lucky, we’ll pass that problem on to our children when they’re older, and then they can ignore it, too. Sounds like a plan!

And as for the good Senator from Alaska, (the senior Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, no less), her Washington Post op-ed last week titled, “Setting the record straight on America’s oil,” should more accurately have been sub-titled: “Is Not Something I’m Prepared To Do.”

The Senator expressed her concerns about “some of the information presented about America’s energy potential. Left unchallenged, it will contribute to a mistaken belief that increased domestic production is not truly possible.” I’m not sure who might be making such claims, but … okay!

“The president said this month that ‘even if we doubled the amount of oil that we produced, we’d still be short by a factor of five.’ That’s simply incorrect. Doubling our production would trim imports nearly in half. Boosting production by a factor of five is not currently feasible, but if it were, it would make the United States the world’s largest producer.” And that’s relevant why? How? The United States peaked in oil production four decades ago. We now produce only about half of what we did at the peak. So arguing over the possibility of becoming the world’s largest producer is beyond meaningless. (But a good sound bite if you’re not paying attention!)

“Perhaps most misleading is his claim — also made by others — that the United States has ‘about 2, maybe 3 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves; we use 25 percent of the world’s oil.’ That line is crafted to make the audience think that America is both running out of oil and using oil at an unsustainable rate.”

Um … well, we’re not “running out of oil” (which Peak Oil proponents allegedly make all the time if you listen to the Right, a charge repeated by the Senator. They’re correct only if by “all the time” one actually means “never, at least by any credible authority on the topic”). But the “unsustainable rate” part … that’s actually a problem, and one that is only going to get worse as long as our national strategy is predicated on ignoring it.

Andrew Restuccia was nice enough to take some time after that op-ed came out to do some of that … whatchacallit? Fact-checking?

For starters, he addressed the Senator’s “2, maybe 3 percent” factoid:
“The EIA [Energy Information Administration] says the United States has 20.7 billion barrels of proven oil reserves as of 2009, the year with the most up-to-date data available….U.S. proven reserves are significantly smaller than countries like Canada (178.1 billion barrels), Venezuela (99.4 billion barrels), Saudi Arabia (266.7 billion barrels), United Arab Emirates (97.8 billion barrels) and Libya (43.7 billion barrels).
“Overall, based on those numbers, the United States has about 2 percent of the world’s proved oil reserves.”

Facts 1; Sen. Murkowski: 0

Next up, the Senator’s assertion of a “misleading claim” that “we use 25 percent of the world’s oil”:
“The United States consumes massive amounts of oil. The EIA says the United States consumed 18,771,400 barrels of oil per day in 2009. That’s higher than any other country in the world….
“In total, the United States consumed 6.85 billion barrels of oil in 2009 and 6.99 billion barrels of oil in 2010. That’s about one-fourth of the world’s oil.”

I hate math, but I believe that “one-fourth” would be within the margin of error for someone claiming “25 percent.”

Facts 2; Sen. Murkowski: 0

Moving on, the Senator then makes this claim: “Right now, America has an estimated 22.3 billion barrels of oil reserves. But that’s hardly the whole story. A recent Congressional Research Service report that I commissioned with Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma found that the United States’ recoverable oil resources are estimated at 157 billion barrels. That is seven times as much as our reserves and doesn’t even include the roughly 900 billion barrels of unconventional oil resources nearing commercialization.”

As an aside, relying on Sen, Inhofe for an impartial and fair assessment of any energy matter not entitled “Big Oil” is a lot like relying on Rush Limbaugh to deliver impartial and fair assessments about opposing political viewpoints … not gonna happen. Having said that, the report she mentions states the following:

“U.S. proved reserves of oil total 19.1 billion barrels, reserves of natural gas total 244.7 trillion cubic feet, and natural gas liquids reserves of 9.3 billion barrels. Undiscovered technically recoverable oil [my emphasis] in the United States is 145.5 billion barrels….[That’s later defined as follows]:
Undiscovered technically recoverable resources (UTRR). Oil and gas that may be produced as a consequence of natural pressure, artificial lift, pressure maintenance, or other secondary recovery methods, but without any consideration of economic viability. They are primarily located outside of known fields.” [1]

“Undiscovered” resources….Seriously? And “nearing commercialization” is as unspecific as one can get. What does that mean?

“Our consumption levels may seem high, but in fact they’re directly proportionate to America’s share of the global, petroleum-based economy.” That’s actually a big problem, Senator. Declining supply, increasing world-wide demand, and our insistence on getting whatever we want, when we want it, and at an “affordable” price goes to the heart of Peak Oil’s challenges.

Another frequent argument made by the Right is that increasing domestic oil production and “estimated X millions of barrels of oil” here compares favorably to Persian Gulf imports. The Senator tossed in her two cents: “Relying on reserves to depict America’s oil excludes all of the lands that have never been explored. My home state of Alaska, for example, holds an estimated 40 billion barrels of oil — the equivalent of more than 60 years’ worth of imports from the Persian Gulf.” That’s fine as far as it goes, if “estimated” is acceptable. For those who aren’t paying attention or don’t understand where we get all of our nearly 12 million barrels of imported oil each day, mentioning domestic potential in the same sentence as “Persian Gulf” sounds like the answer to all our fossil fuel prayers.

Mr. Restuccia pointed out more of those damned facts:

“The U.S. imported 11.7 billion barrels of petroleum a day in 2009, which comes to about 51 percent of the petroleum used in the United States. As of 2009, the country got 21 percent of its oil from Canada, 10 percent from Mexico, 9 percent each from Venezuela and Saudi Arabia and 7 percent from Nigeria.”

In other words, potential domestic supply measured against the Gulf is less impressive as soon as it becomes clear that the Persian Gulf isn’t exactly a huge supplier of oil for us (not that 9 percent isn’t a good chunk of our imports, but when one is left to think that Persian Gulf oil is the majority source of oil, it loses a lot of its effectiveness as a talking point).

Facts 3; Sen. Murkowski: 0

It’s also worth noting that the Senator of course neglected to mention any facts about how we increase our domestic production: what’s involved, how much it will cost, how long it will take, environmental concerns….It’s the by-now familiar tactic of the Right: make pronouncements which sound good and hope no one is going to ask for explanations.

Echoing a point made by many others (including a report from the Bush Administration), Mr. Restuccia sticks another pin in the balloon about the impact of increased domestic production:

“Even a dramatic expansion of domestic oil and gas drilling will have little effect on oil and gas prices, as they are largely set on world markets.
“Here’s EIA Administrator Richard Newell, in written testimony delivered to the House Natural Resources Committee March 17:
“‘Long term, we do not project additional volumes of oil that could flow from greater access to oil resources on Federal lands to have a large impact on prices given the globally integrated nature of the world oil market and the more significant long-term compared to short-term responsiveness of oil demand and supply to price movements.’”

Game. Set. Match: Facts.

Perhaps we need to start having different kinds of discussions … the kind where facts are important, where leaders are willing to be honest, and where we are ready to deal with the truths about fossil fuels.

Sources:

[1] Report for Congress: Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress – U.S. Fossil Fuel Resources: Terminology, Reporting, and Summary by Gene Whitney, Section Research Manager; Carl E. Behrens, Specialist in Energy Policy; Carol Glover, Information Research Specialist – November 30, 2010.

[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]

Several weeks ago, 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.

In a preview of an upcoming two-part series here on our political leadership’s approach to Peak Oil, 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 recently offered a terrific summary of the reasons against opening up the Reserve.)

As I noted in another post some 16 months ago (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 recently 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.

Sources:

[1] http://peakoil.com/consumption/the-energy-prophet/; The energy prophet – Peter Tertzakian’s conversation with Derek Brower, October 28, 2010 (original article at http://www.petroleum-economist.com/default.asp?page=14&PubID=46&ISS=25702&SID=727276
[2] http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20110310/pl_afp/mideastunrestuseconomypoliticsoil; US Republicans assail Obama as gas prices rise – March 10, 2011
[3] http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/2011/03/oil-a-commodity-traded-on-a-global-marketplace/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+matthewyglesias+%28Matthew+Yglesias%29; Oil: A Commodity Traded On A Global Marketplace – March 11, 2011
[4] http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/08/a-dark-warning-on-global-oil-demand/#more-94428; A Dark Warning on Global Oil Demand By Clifford Krauss – March 8, 2011
[5] http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2010-11-25/how-sustainable-renewable-energy; How sustainable is renewable energy? by Roger Adair – November 25, 2010

I’m well aware that there is an unfortunately successful and all-too-often-employed strategy (lack of integrity aside) used most often in politics but certainly in discussions about Peak Oil and global warming, where the frequent repetition of any combination of lies, half-truths, misstatements, misrepresentations, and disingenuous propositions eventually leads to belief on the part of far too many people.

I’ve mentioned in prior posts (here and here, for example) that I think it’s important to challenge widely-disseminated examples of peak oil denial rather than letting the disingenuous arguments take root. The decline in oil production is a big enough problem as it is; creating doubt for reasons having no discernible value is at best questionable and should not go unchallenged is possible.

To that end, I came across two articles last week that caught my attention. Predictably, the same patterns of “explanations” and offerings cropped up there just as they have in other articles I’ve highlighted before. I guess if you cannot deal with facts, there’s not a whole of room for much creativity when addressing fossil fuel production. I’ll deal with the first article today, and save my discussion for the other one for an upcoming post.

First up is a piece from Jeremy Bowden, whose first paragraph touts one of the more popular terms in denial-land: the finding of “massive” oil fields. Whenever I read that, the antenna goes up and into full lock mode. Usually accompanying glowing exhortations about these magical fields where solutions to all our problems reside are phrases touting the wonder of technology and ingenuity. Bowden does not disappoint.

This article of necessity raises the specter of OPEC’s role in world production: “It is the technical expertise and project management skills of the most dynamic multinational and independent oil companies that hold the key to these new hard-to-get-at reserves, rather than the whims of Arab dictators or the level of OPEC budget deficits.” Always good to have an enemy to whip out at a moment’s notice (not that I’m an OPEC fan, mind you.)

I’m still not entirely clear on why quotes like this are supposed to be persuasive, but they do frequent writings which dispute peak oil:

“James Burkhard, a managing director at energy consultancy IHS CERA, says the recent upstream developments mean oil and gas will continue to be pillars of global energy supply for decades to come. ‘The competitiveness of oil and gas and the scale at which they are produced mean that there are no readily available substitutes in either one year or 20 years,’ he added.”

He’s absolutely correct. There are no readily available substitutes, but that’s the problem! Saying that oil is currently our one and only is not even a bit helpful. All it does is to emphasize how utterly dependent we are on this finite resource—a resource that by all reasonable indications peaked several years ago and will continue a steady path along a not-always smooth or linear slope of decline … and we are woefully unprepared. (This recent post is only the latest in a lengthy list of concise and easily-understood explanations about Peak Oil.)

So what comfort does it offer us to indicate that all we have is all we have, when more of it is being demanded and less of it is being produced?! That math just doesn’t work.

Bowden also points out that Canadian oil sands now provide us with more oil that does Saudi Arabia. And….?

Saudi supply is being counted out by many other nations whose fossil fuel demands are only increasing; Saudi production is also being increasingly diverted to and for its own uses, and its fields are not immune to the same rates of depletion as are most other older fields, so … what’s the point here? Like most other articles which promote Canadian tar sands as the Great Salvation, no mention whatsoever is made here of the environmental degradation; the poisonous tailing ponds left behind; the immense demands on water; the costs, effort, and/or time involved in extraction, or the fact that production rates aren’t all that spectacular to begin with!

But why deal with any of those facts? They simply get in the way of a good insincere argument. (And Bowden also makes it a point of stating that U.S. oil production increased “for the first time in decades.” Our production peaked more than forty years ago! A slight one year uptick—from shale, which has its own set of environmental, cost, effort, and resource usage issues, also conveniently overlooked—is not exactly encouraging.)

Speaking of U.S. shale production, Bowden points out the following:

“… the Bakken shale field is now the country’s fastest-growing major oil field. Production has reached about 350,000bpd, from 100,000bpd a decade ago. In a recent report, consultancy firm PFC Energy projected production would climb to 450,000bpd by 2013. ‘The technology producing these resources has absolutely made the difference,’ Mr Marvin E Odum, President of Shell Oil, said. ‘It’s the same with the Arctic, with the shale oil, all over the world. Technology is the key.’”

Give or take a bit, the United States uses somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 billion barrels of oil per year … billion with a “b”. I’m definitely not a math whiz, but my trusty calculator tells me that 450,000 barrels per day times 365 days equals an impressive-sounding (approximate) 165 million barrels per year. I’m pretty certain that 165 million is a whole lot less than 7 billion. Rounding up to the approximate 20 million barrels of oil this nation uses each day, that means we’ll soon be producing enough to get us through sometime next week! Fantastic!

Another forty or so examples like that and we’re all set (and to hell with the rest of the world and their needs or demands).

This author also made it a point of using the same vague, subject-to-multiple-interpretations stock language others employ is discussing the magic of potential future technology, including this:

“A recent forecast produced by Shell suggests that Arctic production from North America, Europe, and western Russia – much of which will be deep offshore – could make up a quarter of global production within 20 years, provided that remaining technical, political and environmental challenges are met.” [My emphasis]

“… provided that remaining technical, political and environmental challenges are met”? Seriously? That’s what we’re supposed to derive great—or any—comfort from? And within 20 years? Wow! That’s not asking for too much, is it? A few pesky “technical, political and environmental challenges” met and we’re good to go!

And there’s this:

“Advances in directional drilling allow well operators to steer and carve through hard shale to expose more and hard-to-reach rock, and it also makes possible drilling under cities or into environmentally-sensitive areas….
“Faced with falling reserves and barred from acquiring fresh production in areas such as the Middle East, [nice to just skip past this – my comment] international oil majors began to search for new large deposits in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico….Exploration and drilling below 10,000ft of water and through miles of hard rock, thick salt and tightly-packed sands required the development of supercomputers and three-dimensional imaging techniques as well as equipment that could withstand the heat and pressures common at such depths, not to mention submarine robots to make repairs.”

Others have also pointed out these types of impressive displays of innovation and truly astounding technology. But why is this a good thing? That anyone has to go to these lengths and expenses and risks to find oil shouldn’t require any advanced technical degrees to understand that we’ve got some problems!

It would be nice if even some of the energy and effort expended in trying to prop up the dismal truths of oil production could instead be directed to conveying a more accurate and complete picture of what we face now and will have no choice but to deal with in the years to come. That might be a bit more helpful.

There’s always hope….

The Global Climate Change, Human Security & Democracy Project from the University of California (Santa Barbara) has issued a report (PDF here) discussing the problems awaiting us at the convergence of peak oil, energy decline, and global warming.

The report offered a concise summary of the current state of our oil supply considerations:

* Peak oil is happening now.
* The era of cheap and abundant oil is over.
* Global conventional oil production likely peaked around 2005 – 2008 or will peak by 2011.
* Global oil reserve discoveries peaked in the 1960’s.
* New oil discoveries have been declining since then, and the new discoveries have been smaller and in harder to access areas (e.g., smaller deepwater reserves).
* Huge investments are required to explore for and develop more reserves, mainly to offset decline at existing fields. [And it should be noted that given the world-wide recession, investments in oil exploration and production have been significantly curtailed in the last few years – my comment]
* An additional 64 mbpd of gross capacity – the equivalent of six times that of Saudi Arabia today – needs to be brought on stream between 2007 – 2030 to supply projected business as usual demand.
* Since mid-2004, the global oil production plateau has remained within a 4% fluctuation band, which indicates that new production has only been able to offset the decline in existing production.
* The global oil production rate will likely decline by 4 – 10.5% or more per year.
* Substantial shortfalls in the global oil supply will likely occur sometime between 2010 – 2015

Yet in the face of even more facts about the reality of declining oil production and availability, more nonsense—written by Clifford Krauss and published in the New York Times, no less!—denying the reality of our predicament has surfaced. (Stuart Staniford also had a very nice and well-reasoned article challenging the statements found in that NYT piece. I’m taking the opportunity to expand on his thoughts.) *

As I’ll demonstrate below, this at-best-misleading NYT article is yet another in a seemingly limitless supply of carefully-worded challenges to the facts and realities of our political, energy, and climate environments—challenges which upon even casual examination completely fall apart. Facts remain stubbornly annoying….

Regular readers of this blog may recall a post last month wherein I discussed the curious methods by which the factually-challenged attempt to persuade others. This New York Times article is a perfect Exhibit A. I’m not picking on Mr. Krauss for any personal reasons; it’s just that his article is such a perfect example of the peak oil-and-global-warming-denying-Obama-misrepresenting nonsense that litters public discourse. I remain ever-hopeful that at some point, the majority will begin to see that producing fact-free, one-sided arguments (or arguments laden with misrepresentations at the very least) are probably not as convincing as the authors might wish. As I’ve stated before, if you cannot rely on the truth and facts to make your case, what kind of a case do you have to begin with? (And what is one’s motivation in attempting to do so?)

I also recently explained my position (here) that it is important that we immediately challenge misrepresentations, lies, or disingenuous half-truths as and when they appear (a full-time job, to be sure). It’s my belief that much of the right-wing nonsense issuing from the media and politicians is done under the explicit assumption (hope?) that the readers/listeners have neither the time nor the inclination nor the means nor the ability to appreciate or learn the facts. Their reliance on “leaders” to provide information is thus an essential part of the strategy to hide the truth.

To what end?

After mentioning the state of oil supply back in 2008, author Krauss then states:

“But no sooner did the demand-and-supply equation shift out of kilter than it swung back into something more palatable and familiar. Just as it seemed that the world was running on fumes, giant oil fields were discovered off the coasts of Brazil and Africa, and Canadian oil sands projects expanded so fast, they now provide North America with more oil than Saudi Arabia.”

“Giant oil fields”? The world currently uses approximately 30 billion barrels of oil per year. The “giant” oil fields (and Krauss is not the first to offer this statement as the be-all and end-all of our oil supply worries) are estimated to contain, respectively 8 billion barrels and 40 billion barrels according to a 2007 source. Not much has been written about this larger field since then, although another decent-sized field of about 15 billion barrels may be in the works.) Of course, no mention is made of the feasibility of producing every last drop, the at least multi-year time frame, and/or the costs or efforts needed to produce these deep-water fields. Why explain when an impressive-sounding statement will hopefully be enough?

Deep-water fields aren’t like the truly giant fields of old: one does not dig a hole and wait for the hundreds of billions of barrels of oil to gush out as some did decades ago. Deep-water implies … well, deep water, as in beneath the deep water (deep as in many thousands of feet deep.) No engineering degree required to realize that just might pose a problem or two. As Mr. Krauss himself stated later in the article:

“Exploration and drilling below 10,000 feet of water and through miles of hard rock, thick salt and tightly packed sands required the development of supercomputers and three-dimensional imaging and equipment that could withstand the heat and pressures common at such depths, as well as submarine robots to make repairs.”

Sounds like just a wee bit of extra effort and cost. But let’s be optimistic! Perhaps we have discovered another 18 months or so worth of oil in Brazil—assuming of course demand does not increase. Ooops! Seems we have an issue with that. As Krauss then explained:

“The International Energy Agency, the Paris-based organization that advises industrialized countries, projected this month that global energy demand would increase by an astounding 36 percent between 2008 and 2035.”

A 36% increase in demand can certainly be fairly described as “astounding.” But in a world where supply is in fact declining, (or at best, has plateaued) “astounding” increases aren’t exactly a good thing. Increasing demand and declining (or flat) supply creates a second-grade level math problem. If you want more but keep getting less to provide that want, then … um, ah … how does that work? “Demand” something all you want, but if it’s not feasible to produce or supply then “demand” is gonna run into real-world problems. (I’d like to demand that our daughters’ college tuitions be eliminated, I’d like to demand a new BMW every couple of months, and I’d like to demand a million dollars to be deposited into my savings account by Christmas—and I’m going to continue to demand it. Not too difficult to see where that goes.)

As Stuart Saniford sagely pointed out in his critique of the one-sided Krauss article, Mr. Krauss relied on CERA and oil company executives as his sole sources. Now there’s a fine bit of objectivity! (CERA, an energy consulting firm, is routinely castigated by many peak oil proponents far more knowledgeable than me for their errant projections.) For example, Krauss quoted James Burkhard, a managing director of IHS CERA:

“The competitiveness of oil and gas and the scale at which they are produced mean that there are no readily available substitutes in either one year or 20 years.”

That’s quite true. The problem is that this is not a solution. It is instead a very clear statement about the problems we face in a world of declining fossil fuel supply: we do not have in place adequate substitutes. That’s more of the same kind of math problem I discussed above. The world wants more energy, we’re finding and producing less of what is needed, and the few substitutes in place aren’t anywhere near enough to make up the shortfall, so … what is the solution?

It’s not going to get any better. We’re simply not finding enough oil to make up the natural decline found in existing fields, let alone finding enough to match increasing demand. More bad math.

Krauss then adds:

“Yet, the outlook, based on long-term trends barely visible five years ago, now appears to promise large supplies of oil and gas from multiple new sources for decades into the future.”

Based on what information? No source is cited (damned facts just get in the way, anyhow). And “appears to promise” means what? A typical empty phrase that means absolutely nothing! Here are some more examples from this same article:

“The same high prices that inspired dire fear in the first place helped to resolve them. High oil and gas prices produced a wave of investment and drilling, and technological innovation has unlocked oceans of new resources. Oil and gas from ocean bottoms, the Arctic and shale rock fields are quickly replacing tired fields in places like Mexico, Alaska and the North Sea.”

“As IHS CERA and other oil analysts see it, new oil is going to come from both conventional and unconventional sources — from anticipated expansions of fields in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and from a continued expansion of deepwater drilling off Africa and Brazil, in the Gulf of Mexico and across the Arctic, where hopes are high in the oil world, although little exploration has yet been done.”

“Oceans of new resources” sounds impressive, except that it is impossible to measure, and as one might customarily think about the size of your run-of-the-mill “oceans”, that’s about as gigantic an exaggeration as the English language allows! And note the reference to finding these fossil fuels “from ocean bottoms” and in “the Arctic.” (Where, he adds, “little exploration has yet been done.” But then again, “hopes are high.” Hooray! That solves everything!)

Not a word about what all exploration or production involves, how long discovery and production might take, or how much it costs—among other annoying pieces of information that just might provide more clarity and perspective. And more aspects of Oil Production 101 that require very little engineering expertise. Getting anything from the bottom of the oceans or from the Arctic is not “easy” by any definition of easy. But why let an explanation get in the way? Let’s just hope that “oceans of new resources” is enough to satisfy the vast majority of casual readers.

And there’s more!

“No matter what finally plays out, energy experts expect there will be plenty, perhaps even an abundance, of oil and gas.”

How many new barrels of oil in a “plenty” and how many additional barrels than a “plenty” is a “perhaps even an abundance”?

“IHS CERA, which monitors oil and gas fields around the world, projects that productive capacity for liquid fuels could rise to [my emphasis] 112 million barrels a day in 2030 (including 2.75 million barrels in biofuels), from 92.6 million barrels a day this year.”

Pigs could fly, too, and perhaps we could find oil in every back yard in America. (My suggestion would be that no one actually relies on that, however, although you never know! It could be true!)

“‘The estimates for how much oil there is in the world continue to increase,’ said William M. Colton, Exxon Mobil’s vice president for corporate strategic planning. ‘There’s enough oil to supply the world’s needs as far as anyone can see.’”

“‘We’ve got a wealth of opportunities to address around the world,’ said [Robert N. Ryan Jr., Chevron’s vice president for global exploration.] ‘We have quite a few deepwater settings all over the world, some of them very new, like the Black Sea. There are Arctic settings. We have efforts under way re-exploring Nigeria, Angola, Australia. The easy stuff has been found, that’s true, but in the end, we still have many basins in the world to explore or to re-explore.’”

Nice objective quotes from major oil company officials as offered by Mr. Krauss, and for balance and objectivity countered by his quotes from ah … um … well, no one, actually. In about .4 seconds, Google could supply a few dozen experts who have a different view. Then again, perhaps Mr. Colton’s viewers can’t see very far….

And as for Chevron’s Mr. Ryan: how many barrels in “quite a few deepwater settings”? Is it more or less than a “plenty”? How many are “many basins” and exactly how barrels of oil in each of those “many basins”? Is a “setting” bigger than a “basin”? And let’s not focus at all on Mr. Ryan’s acknowledgement that “[t]he easy stuff has been found.” Can’t have a good argument of plenty if you have to deal with the truth.

And let’s not forget the magical and wondrous tar sands in Canada. Mr. Krauss didn’t!

“The vast oil sands fields in western Canada, deemed uneconomical by many oil companies as few as 15 years ago, are now as important to global supply growth as the continuing expansions of fields in Saudi Arabia, the current No. 1 producer.”

Unfortunately, this rosy scenario has to stop by and visit reality for a while, and those “vast” oil sands aren’t quite as efficient as this author seems to suggest. The following is one of many statements of fact that put just a slightly different spin on the availability of the “vast” resources in western Canada.

“The problem with unconventional resources seems to be that only a fraction of them are determined to be recoverable.
“Even though unconventional resources seem to be vast, they are estimated to add only approximately 10 million barrels per day to the supply side – in the best case – when taking into account all unconventional sources such as biofuels and oil from coal. For example, The National Energy Board of Canada estimated back in 2006 that the best case for oil sands production in 2015 would be 4.4 million barrels a day while the base case was 3.2 mb/d and the low case only 1.9 mb/d.
“The current production rate of oil is about 84 million barrels a day, so the unconventional resources will not have a major effect in the long run given depleting conventional sources. Also, a major problem with all sources is decreasing EROEI ratio (energy return on energy invested). For oil it used to be 100 a long time ago and now it is somewhere below 20. EROEI for biodiesel is roughly 3 and for ethanol it is not much more than 1. Depending who to believe, EROEI for oil sands is between 2 and 4. Basically anything above 1 makes sense, but because we are used to a high ratio (= cheap energy), we may have a serious problem when the average EROEI of all supplies of oil goes below 5.” [1]

Damned facts!

This article also weighs in on the recent surge in production of natural gas from shale deposits (a completely separate discussion, but I couldn’t let this quote pass).

“Similar advances have made drilling gas and oil from shale possible on a large scale for the first time. Advances in so-called horizontal drilling allow well drillers to steer and carve through hard shale to expose more and hard-to-reach rock, and it also makes possible drilling under city neighborhoods, as in Fort Worth, which happens to sit atop a large gas field.”

Let’s think about this for just a moment: “drilling under city neighborhoods”?! Won’t the Fort Worth residents be delighted! No impact or consequences there, right? Right? Apparently unable to contain his enthusiasm, Mr. Krauss then goes on add:

“Shale drilling is also beginning to produce significant amounts of oil in the United States. The Bakken shale field centered in North Dakota has become the fastest-growing major oil field in the United States, with production rocketing to about 350,000 barrels a day, from 100,000 barrels a day a decade ago. In a recent report, the consultancy firm PFC Energy projected production would climb to 450,000 barrels a day by 2013.”

For a nation that imports close to three-fourths of the nearly 19 million barrels of oil per day, “rocketing” production all the way up to 450,000 barrels a day means we’ve got about ten days worth of oil demand covered each and every year. Fantastic! (And to hell with the rest of the world.) Of course, extracting oil from shale is a piece of cake … dig a few inches, spend a few bucks, coupla hours ‘a work, no environmental consequences, and we’re good!

At the risk of picking on this one author too much, let me close with another eye-opening quote from this fascinating NYT article, this time from Edward L. Morse, the head at commodity research at Credit Suisse, after Mr. Krauss posits the following:

“Add up the shale, the deepwater drilling and Canadian oil sands, says, and what you get is less dependency on OPEC and hostile countries like Venezuela.”

To which Mr. Morse adds:

“When you add it up, you get something that very closely approximates energy independence.”

Seriously? What kind of math is that? I’d like to use it for our investments.

For all those struggling in this economy, let me add this:

“When you add it up, your $400.00 per week salary very closely approximates $4000.00 per week and financial independence.”

Gee, that’s so easy! I love the fact-free world.

* Shortly before posting I came across this solid open letter to the New York Times from David Hughes, offering a very pointed and fact-filled (what a concept!) challenge to Clifford Krauss’s piece. A must read….

[NOTE: With the holiday coming up, this will be my only post this week. Happy Thanksgiving!]

Sources:

[1] http://seekingalpha.com/article/231957-the-end-of-oil-s-golden-age; The End of Oil’s Golden Age

In conjunction with the recent ASPO annual conference in Washington, two articles (here and here) were offered on the subject of getting the Peak Oil message out, and what some of the strategies might be, given that, as the article by Molly Davis suggested: “… almost all of the messaging experts say the movement’s narrative has failed to influence policymakers — or even the major environmental groups.”

Certainly the level of bipartisan political hostility—as we were reminded of in that piece—contributes to the messaging problems. Others advised that finding an “enemy” might be the most effective strategy. The accepted target was the fossil fuel industry. One rationale offered is that facts alone are not enough (true, sad to say), and by demonizing an easily-demonized entity, the peak oil movement may find more sympathetic listeners. I can’t argue with the rationale, but I wonder if the convenience and expediency of targeting the usual bad-guy is the best choice.

I’d like to offer a different enemy—one also easy enough to aim at for a variety of reasons, but critical to those of us who carry legitimate concerns about what life will be like in the years to come as declining oil production becomes apparent. Explaining that we may not really start to feel the pinch of declining oil production for a few—or more—years down the road is a message that needs to be brought home more vividly and urgently. “Peak Oil” won’t show up in the headlines next week, but that provides us with all the motivation we need to help others understand why now it must become a cause célèbre long before its impact begins.

The extremist right-wing is an easy target for those of us who value things like integrity and facts and reality. My favorite blogger, Steve Benen, offered a piece on this topic (here) yesterday, and after I’d completed my first draft of this post, I came across Ron Chusid’s post offering his own take on the same theme.

In his piece, Chusid quoted Michael Hirschorn’s article in The Atlantic:

“Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said (or is famously reputed to have said) that we may each be entitled to our own set of opinions, but we are not entitled to our own set of facts. In a time when mainstream news organizations have already ceded a substantial chunk of their opinion-shaping influence to Web-based partisans on the left and right, does each side now feel entitled to its own facts as well? And thanks to the emergence of social media as the increasingly dominant mode of information dissemination, are we nearing a time when truth itself will become just another commodity to be bought and sold on the social-media markets?…More far-reachingly, how does society function (as it has since the Enlightenment gave primacy to the link between reason and provable fact) when there is no commonly accepted set of facts and assumptions to drive discourse? [1]

Why not go after those for whom facts are mere inconveniences to be disregarded when they conflict with a narrow-minded and clearly self-serving agenda? At the risk of starting a cat fight where truth may too quickly become a casualty, why don’t we more forcefully challenge those who deny peak oil (and global warming) and who do so for reasons that generally ignore reality in favor of narrowly-defined interests? Those motivations will ultimately do nothing but promote more eventual harm by denying the truths to those who clearly need them the most.

What causes me more despair than perhaps anything is not the stupidity exhibited by politicians who clearly have forsaken integrity (remember when that mattered?) and truth in order to pander to the least enlightened among us. That groveling for short-term gratification in November is endemic in our political system. The dysfunctions exhibited regularly as indicative of the political norm are certainly discouraging enough. (How does Georgia Senator Richard Shelby, for example, manage a straight face when placing a hold on a Fed Reserve nominee because the man is “not qualified” … when the Nobel Committee has seen fit to award that nominee this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics? If it didn’t affect all of us, this kind of disgraceful nuttiness would just be laughable. Hypocrisy is now high art.)

The shamelessness of politicians is now sadly all-too-routine, but the fact that there are so many among us who manage not much more than a shrug is perhaps even more disheartening.

A recent online opinion published on a notorious right wing website (my first—and I hope last—exposure to that particular mainstay of barefaced nonsense) demonstrated what has now become the usual level of factually challenged, paranoid-laden, and depressingly shortsighted commentary about the energy crisis. I then forced myself (a distinctly unpleasant experience, I might add) to read through several dozen comments in support of the author’s inane pseudo-factual tripe about electric cars and fossil fuel resources. The narrow-mindedness those contributors likewise exhibited in marching lock step with the author, replete with their own brand of paranoia; snarky, self-righteous drivel; and an utter disregard for anything even in the vicinity of truth or rational thought, is breathtaking in its scope! I know all too well this wasn’t an isolated incident.

I won’t dignify the commentary or increase traffic to the site by providing the link here (I’ll do so upon request so you can read it yourself), but that pseudo-factual essay suggested (as have others who don’t really understand the problem, and don’t understand that they don’t understand) that we should just expand our oil “imports from friendly nations” as a solution to the problems of reliance on oil from nations whose politics and policies we oppose.

Just like that!? So … what needs to be done? A phone call … will that take care of it? (Gee, why didn’t we think of that sooner?) So what if these friendly nations have to break their agreements with other nations? We’re Americans … we’re entitled to get what we want! A wave of the wand and presto! More imports!

The far right all-too-consistently tosses out these oh-so-helpful hints without bothering to discuss all the (or even any) facts which, in the real world we inhabit, make their suggestions ludicrously impossible to fulfill. Of course, we run the risk of getting bogged down in he said/she-said arguments that quickly devolve into the lowest forms of “debate”, but why let those types of offerings go unchallenged? They feed on themselves, and it is tiresome and time-consuming to have to rebut all the nonsense. But if we don’t, uninformed readers and listeners have no reason to at least consider the possibility that there may indeed be other facts out there that should at least be examined in order to make informed assessments, rather than accepting the words of the few. More information is rarely a bad thing, and giving everyone the opportunity to examine the facts and engage in rational discourse as a means of seeking common ground makes for a healthier and more productive society.

Seems like a decent enough concept….

This same author also helpfully urges us to just boost our domestic production, conveniently neglecting to offer even one fact as to how that’s to be accomplished in a nation that reached peak forty years ago! The strategy of “just utter it and hope no one asks” has been very effective, but it’s hard to find legitimate defenses for that approach if one genuinely cares about the well-being of our fellow travelers.

This writer also cites the U.S. Geological Survey estimate that the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve in Alaska has “10.4 billion barrels of oil.” Wheeee! We just found about 16 months worth of oil, just like that! (And of course we’ll hoard it all for ourselves, right? I didn’t catch any suggestion that it would go to market.) And what … two, maybe three weeks of drilling on a tiny plot of land oughtta take care of that, correct? Curious that the facts regarding the costs and efforts and time and consequences of drilling in ANWR somehow didn’t make it into the article. (Space restrictions really suck, don’t they?) Disingenuosly (I’m trying to be kind here), he then mentions that this “will replace imports from Saudi Arabia for 20 years” … conveniently omitting the fact that Saudi is just one of our suppliers—and not our leading provider, by the way, so not-so-subtly painting the Saudis as one of our bogeymen may not be quite as effective as he’d hoped. (Damn those facts!)

Using his math—unchallenged—that means in his world we get about 500 million barrels of Saudi oil per year, or about a month’s worth, give or take. (Rounded up, we currently use about 20 million barrels per day here in the U.S. The rest of the math is easy.)

“Saudi Arabia sends 360,934,000 barrels of oil per year (989,000 barrels per day), 20 percent of its total oil exports, to the United States, according to the EIA.”[2]

But what’s a 150 billion barrel exaggeration/40% overstatement of facts among friends, right? It makes the story better, and isn’t that all that really matters? Why worry about the veracity of the narrative when you don’t really care about the present and future plight of your readers and listeners?

As for other suggestions? He did offer that Canada and Mexico could help out by exporting more to the U.S. … the same Canada whose tar sand production shows no indication of reaching a level anywhere near enough to satisfy just our own demands let alone worldwide increasing demand anytime this century; and the same Mexico whose production levels from its largest oil field, Cantarell, has fallen off the cliff in the last few years.

“Pemex says it is getting Cantarell under control, noting that the field’s decline has stabilised at 12 per cent per year – a number many analysts find difficult to believe.
“Cantarell’s production peaked seven years ago at 2.2m barrels a day. Today the field struggles to produce a quarter of that.”[3]

And, oh, by the way:

“Canada reigns as the United States’ leading oil supplier, exporting some 707,316,000 barrels of oil per year (1,938,000 barrels per day) —a whopping 99 percent of its annual oil exports, according to the EIA” [4]

I’m guessing there’s not a lot of room for Canada to do much more than 99%, but why let reality get in the way of some pretty good nonsense. Tweak a few numbers, and our wonderful neighbors to the north should be able to get us somewhere around … what … maybe 162% of their exports? That’s a good number! (If you’re going to make stuff up, try not to go too far over the top.)

Those suggestions oughtta work out just dandy! Thanks!

And just to round out the nonsense (all in one paragraph, mind you) this same writer also informs us that the “continental US has 163 billion barrels of unproven reserves.” Unproven? Why not 163 kajillion barrels; that’s unproven too! He’s relying on “unproven” reserves to bolster his argument? Seriously? Are any of his readers paying any attention at all? Yikes!

The fears of many who feel woefully out of touch and helpless in the face of the current economic crisis (and certainly not without good reason) make it easy to latch onto these “facts” without once taking a deep breath to consider the validity or logic behind the utterances—especially when they’re extended by those in seeming positions of authority or knowledge (and who coincidentally share—and play to—their same intense dislike for government and liberals and assorted other popular bogeymen). To what end?

What is this nonsense designed to accomplish? How does this help us in any way? It would be so helpful if integrity still counted for something when dealing with issues that require a broad consensus (and understanding) for resolution. How can we effectively help enlighten and prepare others who do not have the means or opportunities to learn the truth, especially when one side seems so intent on obliterating it? Where’s the honor in that? So I’ll ask again: How does this help?

How can we as a society hope to properly address the challenges we’ll face when the lack of knowledge in a sizeable portion of our society is so rampant and is so consistently encouraged by a not-insignificant segment of public officials and their sycophant media counterparts?

How do we reach those who clearly need a greater understanding? Peak Oil is not a progressive or liberal agenda. It’s about the facts on and in the ground—facts that affect (and benefit) all of us now, even Tea Partiers and the right-wing machine that works so hard and effectively to cloud the truth. Peak Oil’s impact will also just as surely and adversely affect ardent deniers when the consequences of declining oil production and a warming Earth begin to make their inevitable appearance. By then it will be much too late….

How do we convince the currently un-/ill-informed to empower themselves, to learn that there is in fact other evidence about peak oil that is not (surprise!) about conspiracies, or liberal evil, or an alien, black, Muslim-loving, Socialist-leaning, apologist Martian President? That evidence is what it is: the disturbing truth about our fossil fuel resources and the declining production coupled with increasing demand which will in the years to come make our lives a lot more challenging than we’re prepared to acknowledge or deal with. That’s not pleasant for peak oil proponents either!

What can we do and say to help them understand that peak oil and the climate crisis are not figments of their imaginations easily scorned, but real-life conditions based on real-life facts in a real-life world that will have real-life consequences in their own real lives … much sooner than they’ll be prepared for? We’re all in this, and one’s political leanings or thoughts about government and all the rest will not matter. Peak Oil is not going to single out the fear-mongering, sky-is-falling, loony liberals and preserve the rest!

What help can these citizens expect then from their so-called leaders who so artfully disseminated their fact-free nonsense at a time when genuine leadership and integrity were most needed? Conducting themselves in this manner in crystal-clear reliance on their hope and belief that their followers simply lack the ability or inclination to ferret out the truths for themselves is beyond appalling! And we let it happen! What kind of a nation do we choose to be?

How do you look at a broad swath of an industrial or urban landscape in these times (knowing that there are literally tens of millions of identical scenes playing out across our planet) and honestly believe that the products and production spewing smoke and carbon and exhaust and pollutants into the air—all flowing from our genuinely magnificent innovations and creativity and skill and dedication—have no effect on our atmosphere—cumulatively or otherwise? What kind of delusions are needed to honestly believe that our astonishing levels of progress do not simultaneously carry with them the risks so obvious to so many others among us? What kind of denial mechanisms do these people have in place that allow them to just simply ignore the truth and facts and irrefutable evidence?

Why is the decline of oil production so hard to imagine when we’ve all been exposed to shortages of one kind or another along the way, especially when in this case we are dealing with a finite resource being used with greater demand than ever before? Take a look at those same urban/industrial vistas and ask yourself how can we possibly continue to supply ourselves with enough fossil fuels to keep it all going effortlessly and endlessly—especially when so many millions more seek to emulate our lifestyles in years to come?

How deep must one’s fears and sense of helplessness be that they allow themselves to be manipulated by those who prey on those same fears in order to exploit them for their own selfish gains? How can we help those so clearly in need of truths about our future find their better selves, in the process enabling them to offer their own needed contributions to the dialogue we must continue to engage in?

More worrisome still: How difficult will it be for these people to adjust to declining supplies of energy and the consequences of our warming planet when the people they rely on most have been at best disingenuous, but more truthfully complicit in the slow and steady damage to our society and civilization by exploiting the lack of understanding across the citizenry for their own economic or political gain? These are the people revered as patriots and leaders? How can we expect them to be of any help at all?

Now is the time when citizens need to understand what is at stake. Once we’re up to our eyeballs in declining production and its myriad impacts it’s way, way too late to only then start becoming aware and wonder what to do.

The “What’s The Matter With Kansas Syndrome” has to be among the most disturbingly fascinating themes of modern society. Tens of millions of followers routinely elect officials or hang on the words of those who so clearly do not have their best interests at heart! It’s almost comical in its brazenness now. And come November, we’re likely to see even more demonstrations of this phenomenon. That so many allow themselves to be persuaded of “facts” that are so clearly detrimental to their self-interests, and that they are so unwilling to take time to exercise their own independent gift of thought and reason as we all move closer to cliffs of our own making is amazing! I just wish it were happening in some other place at some other time in history, rather than on my dime!

So what do we do? What kind of nation do we honestly choose to be?

How do we get the message across to so many who are blindly heading for the cliffs?

Sources:

[1] http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/11/truth-lies-here/8246; Truth Lies Here: How can Americans talk to one another—let alone engage in political debate—when the Web allows every side to invent its own facts? By Michael Hirschorn

[2] http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/100726/top-7-us-oil-importers; Top 7 suppliers of oil to the US. Really big oil: Where does the US get its crude? Here’s what you need to know. By News Desk — GlobalPost Editors, Published: July 28, 2010

[3] http://money.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=1033627; Mexico’s Pemex wrestles with oil decline By Carola Hoyos in Campeche, Mexico , Financial Times, 29 Mar 2010

[4] http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/100726/top-7-us-oil-importers; Top 7 suppliers of oil to the US.

Hello again!

In my last post, I took a brief look at some of the facts suggesting that we are indeed at or very near the point when our planet’s maximum rate of oil production has been reached.

Today, I’ll point out some of the more popular arguments here in the U.S. disputing Peak Oil. As I’ll do with the information from my prior post, I’ll likewise expand my examination of this material in future discussions.

Four popular arguments against Peak Oil are discussed below (although they are not necessarily the primary debating points). In no particular order, these refutations are as follows:

  • there are billions if not trillions of barrels of “unconventional” oil in the shale deposits of the western United States
  • there are comparable amounts of unconventional oil in western Canada (the oil or “tar” sands of Alberta), and thus the  combination of these oil resources will supply us with all the oil we need for hundreds of years
  • the Arctic region/Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)/offshore areas here in the U.S hold billions of barrels of oil
  • technology will be developed to boost oil production in existing fields or aid in the discovery of as-yet undiscovered fields

While reminding you that I lack the professional expertise of an engineer or geologist, I nonetheless do not challenge the range of estimated oil resources touted in the Alberta oil sands and America’s oil shale deposits.

Where I take issue is that the related facts and details about production and extraction of shale and sand are all too often conveniently omitted when these massive resources are hailed as the solution to any oil supply problems we might face. Just throwing out the phrase “trillions of barrels” is at best disingenuous. (Despite other arguments suggesting similar amounts of conventional oil reserves, most experts state with about 90% certainty that there are about 1.2 trillion barrels of crude oil reserves. [1]) Resources are not the same as reserves. There are no guarantees that “resources” can ever be successfully produced.

In more than thirty years of attempted production, about 110 million barrels of oil have been produced from oil shale (principally in the Bakken region of Montana and North Dakota). [2] That’s not per year. That’s a thirty-plus year total. (Our nation uses somewhere around 20 million barrels per day; worldwide the usage is approximately 85 million barrels per day). No one has yet managed a commercially viable method of production. One hundred and ten million barrels doesn’t sound quite that impressive when you stack that up against daily usage.

Most experts, even the most optimistic ones, suggest that it will be decades before oil production from oil shale reaches as much as 200,000 barrels per day. With demand expected to rise to over 100 million barrels per day in the next two decades (ignoring depletion rates in existing fields entirely, which the International Energy Association’s World Energy Outlook 2008 estimated at 6.7% a year and rising [3]), that’s not much of a dent.

Most underdeveloped nations aren’t especially inclined to wait a few more decades to improve their lot. Certainly China and India aren’t idling! Demand will increase, supplies will become more strained, and problems will ensue.

Similarly, most experts have pegged maximum lifetime production from the Alberta tar sands at a total of less than two hundred billion barrels. Not an insignificant amount to be sure, but it will take many decades to extract it all. Even the most optimistic supporters of oil sand production don’t expect production rates of more than a couple of million barrels per day—and that is many, many years down the road.

That won’t help much. It’s even less significant when you factor in the environmental degradation wrought by oil sands mining (as will be discussed in an upcoming post). The amounts of water and natural gas required in the process of extracting oil from the sands will cause its own set of problems in the not-too-distant future. Soil and water contamination issues are also prevalent.

As for the Arctic and offshore areas, there may indeed be “significant” finds, but … hello! Exactly how easily and efficiently is that going to be achieved? How many hundreds of billions of dollars and how many years and how much effort will it take if those areas do turn out to be a bit of a boon once again?

There are reportedly about 10.5 billion barrels of oil available in the ANWR, and tens of billions of barrels offshore. Natural topography and climate alone mean that herculean efforts would be needed … and none of that is free! Experts tell us that offshore fields (ignoring the immense difficulties of extraction/production) decline faster and sooner than fields on land.

If we have to go to those lengths and expenses to locate and produce oil, what does that tell you? No expertise required … just a bit of common sense.

Let’s not ignore the fact that as oil exploration becomes more challenging, expensive, and time-consuming, the energy required to locate and extract the oil increases as well, and thus the net energy gained is much less. Crude oil is a remarkably productive source of energy, and for all the talk about oil from the sands and shale, the return on those sources of energy is minimal in comparison. We’ll need a lot more of those resources to produce the same amount of work as crude oil.

As for technology, if one pays attention to the language used, there’s a lot of “potentially’s” and “maybe’s” and “could’s” and “might’s” liberally sprinkled through the optimistic declarations that peak oil is not an issue. My own favorite is “future discoveries of ‘superfields’ of conventional oil reservoirs could boost world production.” [4] Uh, well … ah, yes, I guess that’s true. Not exactly a solution we can count on, though. Future discoveries that indicate we can get oil from mattresses or hats could also boost world production, but….Need I say more?

The notion that higher gas prices will spur development of new technologies conveniently ignores the fact that there are not oodles of new technologies hiding in laboratory closets just waiting to be loosed on planet Earth next week. I have no doubt that technology will continue to improve the quality of our lives, but technology developed and perfected for commercial usage requires time, energy, effort, and money—among other things. What might prove economically or practically feasible 5, 10, 15, or 50 years from now isn’t of much help … now!

There are legitimate and not-so-legitimate arguments for and against peak oil, and like most complicated issues in this day and age, trying to figure out what is right and what is rightfully ignored is no easy task. I’ll do my best in future posts to help you sort through it all and assist you in coming to a better understanding of Peak Oil and its implications.

Next: Some Related Considerations About The Peak Oil Debate

Sources

[1] http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette/news/saturdayextra/story.html?id=153514b8-0a4f-47d8-a68f-24e779264fcd&p=3
        The age of oil is ending – WILLIAM MARSDEN
[2] http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3868
        The Bakken Formation: How Much Will It Help?
[3] http://www.aspousa.org/index.php/2008/11/a-peak-oiler-but-still-in-the-closet-iea/
       A Peak-Oiler, but still in the closet? IEA’s 2008 Report
       By Matt Simmons • on November 17, 2008
[4] Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA), as noted in http://science.howstuffworks.com/peak-oil2.htm
       Have we reached peak oil? – Josh Clark