About twenty months ago, I discussed the topic of the Export Land Model, one defined and credited to Texas petroleum geologist Jeffrey Brown and a colleague (Dr. Samuel Foucher). Its premise begins with a simple question: “What happens to oil exports in a world with constrained oil supplies?”
As I noted in that prior post: “As oil-exporting nations use the profits generated from their production and sale to grow their own economies and strengthen their industries and infrastructure—while raising the standards of living of their own citizens—they must necessarily increase the amount of oil they retain for themselves. It is, after all, their oil. (And they function with fossil fuel-based infrastructures just as the rest of us do.) Seems fairly straightforward….
“What we tend to overlook … is that as oil production begins its inexorable decline (as it already has in many instances), and as this domestic use increases, the amount of oil available to the rest of us decreases even more drastically than it does based on a straight oil production decline.”
Let’s take a look at how this might work, using very simplified math (trying to help out certain political “leaders” as much as I can), and a scenario most can relate to.
I have 1000 bottles of water available to me each day from a reservoir located entirely on my property. My family has owned this land for hundreds of years. To extract the water and bottle it costs me, on average, just ten cents per bottle. So every day, like clockwork, investing the time and money needed, I extract 1000 bottles of water from my self-contained reservoir. My cost is a measly $100.00 every day.
Unfortunately, in my little community, we never get rain … ever! (Work with me here. I’m adopting a Republican leadership strategy: facts and science are inconvenient for purposes of my story, so off they go!)
The reservoir initially held, according to most water-bottling experts, approximately 100 million bottles of water way back when. Now I’m down to about 50 million bottles. Not an insignificant amount, to be sure! The reservoir is no longer just one big lake any longer, however. Draining away all that water over all these years has of course run it down quite a bit, and now some of that water tends to slide off here and there into little seams and pockets and shallower areas. That stuff is gonna be tough to get to, let me tell you!
But so far, I don’t have a lot of trouble getting to most of the water. Some days I have to work a bit more. Truth be told, more days are like that now than ever before, but not a big deal. I’ve had to buy some fancy do-hickeys to help me pump out the water, but I’m not worried. Just wish those things didn’t cost so much! But I’ve still got a lot of water on my property! Taking a good guess about those underwater nooks and crannies and eyeballing how deep I think the reservoir is, I’m pretty damn confident that I’ve still got “quite a few years” left before squeezing out all those bottles of water gets to be a bit too much for me.
Of course, water is absolutely essential to my continuing health. I can’t do without, that’s for sure! Every single day for the last many years, I’ve needed 50 of those bottles myself for all kinds of things. But those 50 that I first take out bottles every day for myself have been more than enough. I’ve never worried that I should start skimping here and there.
Now, I do like the finer things in life. A nice riding mower sure does help me out on the property, for one! Lots of TVs, too … can’t have enough of those! I like to take trips now and then, and as for new cars—the expensive kind—well, they’re a are a real treat for me. A few years back, I bought this really terrific piece of property and built a house. I like to spend a lot of time during the summer there. Lots of nice things in that house, too. Stuff is getting expensive! So I need some revenue to make sure I have all the stuff I want.
The neat thing about all of this is that with so much water on my property, every single day I’ve been able to share my good fortune with all my neighbors. It’s a small community, and most of them, unlike me, don’t have a lot of possessions yet and not a lot of needs, but they do need their water. And wouldn’t you know that each and every day, I’ve been able to sell all my bottles of extra water to my neighbors, all of whom are delighted to pay the $1.00 per bottle I ask. Win – win!
But here’s the thing: now I’m married (time travel into the future is way cool)! And wouldn’t you know, my wife needs her own supply of water every day. Not a problem, honey! We’ve got a lot of water. But I’ve been noticing recently that I’m not always getting the full 1000 bottles out every day. (That whole “no rain” thing is damned inconvenient!) Actually, I can’t remember the last time I did, but hey! We have enough for us, so no worries!
Neighbors grumbled a bit when I had to let them know I couldn’t meet all of their demands any longer, and because it’s getting a bit more difficult for me to get the water each day (gotta do some climbing down to get to the water nowadays, what with the level dropping and all), I had to start charging them a bit more. Truth be told, I’ve been kinda raising the prices regularly for quite some time. Wish it were different, but you know how it is!
Every now and then I’ve dropped the price when it made sense to do so, but most days I just can’t. (I do like buying all that stuff, you know, and it’s not free!)
And since my neighbors all need the water and would prefer getting it from me rather than having to waste time and money and effort driving all over the place to find a few bottles here and there in some of the outlying areas of our county (and it’s usually more expensive stuff, too; and some of it tastes funny, by the way), they keep buying whatever I put out on the card table I have out in front of my house.
No need to put up any fancy store decorations or anything like that. They’re gonna show up every day no matter what, so why spend the money? You would be amazed at all the cool stuff I buy from catalogs with all the money I save by not having to do anything to get my neighbors to buy my water! I’m sure I’ll use at least most of that stuff eventually.
Good news! We have a new baby (this fact-and science-free living is just amazing)! The baby sure does demand a lot, and it turns out that Junior needs a lot of water too! Not so much right now, ‘cuz after all he’s just a baby, but it’s just common sense that once he starts to grow, I know he’ll be needing more. Not a problem, ‘cuz I got lots of extra water!
Of course, while the neighbors are happy for me and delighted that my child is getting lots of chances to do things on my dime (amazing the stuff you can buy from baby catalogs!), I don’t have quite as many water bottles available for them each day. And you know how neighbors are: they do need their water!
There’s been some additional grumbling, and a few of the neighbors are starting to add some soda or tea to their daily routines, but that only goes so far. Those Dr. Pepper baths aren’t nearly as enjoyable as you might think, so they are definitely feeling the pinch now and then, but everyone is managing so far. There’s still just about enough water in the county to take care of everyone. Don’t for how long, but we’re all good at least today.
Fact is, I’ve got too much to think about right now as it is, so I really can’t be bothered thinking about tomorrow or next week, or even next month. That kind of long-term thinking just doesn’t work for me.
Of course, I could just tell my wife and Junior that they should do without all the water each of them needs, but I’m not having that conversation! So the bottom line is that I’m going to keep keeping for myself all the water my family needs every day and sell the rest.
More good news. Baby # 2 has arrived! Junior is starting to need a bit more water now that he’s starting to grow and have friends over, and well, with another thirst to quench, it looks like my neighbors’ supply has just gotten a bit smaller. And you know, I’m climbing down a bit more these days to get at all that water, so … well, you know how it is with costs and expenses and all.
Turns out that my parents are moving in. I’ve got a lot a space, and we do have that nice big second home (and man, that’s getting expensive to maintain). I hate to do it to my good neighbors, but it looks like the price is going to creep up just a bit more, and sad to say they are all going to have to start driving a bit farther out to get all they need, cuz most of the other suppliers in the county are having their own troubles keeping up with demand. I heard that just last week twenty of our neighbors had new babies! Six more of them started up new businesses, too. Good for them! They do need some water for all those new and shiny things, of course, and well, I’ve got more mouths to feed first and foremost, so … well, you know how it is….
In fact, we just had baby # 3! Go figure! And man, do the other two growing children have their needs. Amazing how much more water I’m having to keep for myself these days. They all take showers; friends are now coming over; they’ve got school projects and sports activities and just about all of those events require water; and … well, the truth is that I’m needing a whole lot more water for my family than ever!
Neighbors are saying the same thing about their families, too! Go figure! A few of them are lucky because they have some smaller pools on their property, so they can usually make up for the county-wide shortfalls. Quality is not always as good, of course, but they’re fine. They do complain about how hard it is to get to those other reservoirs and how much work they have to do to get their water bottles back home, but no one seems to be worrying. Of course, they don’t have as much time to do other things, because getting that water home is now a lot more time-consuming than they imagined. Some of the store owners in town are complaining too. “Everyone in town keeps telling me that they can’t buy as much from me as they used to. Excuse is that they have to spend more money on that damn water! I’ve got expenses, too!” I hear that more and more these days.
This is kinda sad, but my sister’s husband lost his job, and they are having a tough time. Since I have a lot of water, I’m helping them out by giving them all they need. That’s one less thing they have to worry about, thankfully! After all, I do have lots of water! And my nephew … wow! He goes through water likes it … water! “It’s free, Uncle, and you’ve got a lot, so what’s the big deal?” I hear that all the time now. And my own Junior has this annoying habit of not turning the shower off, either. What a dummy! Twice a day, I have to clomp up the stairs to shut the water off. Good thing I have a lot of water to waste.
I know the neighbors understand, but I know they’re not happy. What can they say, really? It’s my water! It’s costing even more to get their water from me, I’m working harder, and my own water needs just keep growing! So glad I have a lot of water! Family is getting a bit antsy, ‘though. I had to buy my parents some new furniture because they were complaining so much. I think they’re happy now. But the kids! Every day they want something else, and I know there’s gonna be hell to pay if I don’t give in now and then. Truth is, it’s a lot more now than then these days….What can I do?
How’s all this math working for you so far?
Let me run by you this opening sentence from a recent Reuters report. Might be a good idea to take two minutes and read the entire story.
The world may have to live on a lot less Saudi Arabian crude towards the end of this decade as rampant internal demand eats into oil exports and the kingdom’s alternative energy plans may prove too little too late
Welcome to the Export Land Model … the one we need to consider here in the real, fact-based world.
More to come.