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

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Tag: hydraulic fracturing

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[W]e have no replacement energy source that is as calorically dense as oil. It is simply not practical to replace oil as an energy source and maintain current energy demands.

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

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Our infrastructure (roads, bridges, train tracks, water and sewer pipes, power lines, etc.) does not exist in current form without the ready availability of inexpensive conventional crude oil. Our modern society with all of its technological marvels and the wide ranging conveniences was made possible and sustained in large part because we have had the boundless opportunities this fossil fuel resource provided.

But production of that finite resource peaked a decade ago.

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We will have to transition to a post-fossil-fuel economy eventually, either out of wisdom or chaos [1]

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Imagine what would happen if citizens took a moment or two to ponder the implications of the nonsense peddled to them daily by those public voices having decidedly different priorities than the public’s continued well-being…. continue reading…

 

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This is a follow-up to my most recent post, in which I offered a few observations on commentary attempting to debunk the concept of peak oil courtesy of this recent article by John Kemp. [Quotes here are from the Kemp article unless noted otherwise.]  continue reading…

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Last October, Peter Neill offered a passionate appeal for us all to consider more carefully and thoughtfully the energy supply roads we are now embarked upon in the aptly titled “What Price for Extra Oil?”. After an overview of recent energy production innovations and a sobering  continue reading…

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In recent months, Gail Tverberg in particular, along with Steven Kopits and Ron Patterson, have examined both the financial and production continue reading…

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In the end, does the choice of words really matter?

He [Total CEO Christophe de Margerie] also cautioned against oil and gas industry pronouncements about abundant energy  continue reading…

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This is a follow-up to Monday’s post, in which I discussed some of the conclusions offered in a 2013 report issued by Tullet Prebon, a British financial services firm, and authored by Dr. Tim Morgan, Global Head of Research: PERFECT STORM – ENERGY, FINANCE, AND THE END OF GROWTH. [Unless otherwise noted, quotes are taken from that PDF report.]

As I previously noted, the report pays special attention to the concept of Energy Return on Energy Invested [EROEI] and its significance in discussions about peak oil and our future energy supply.

The critical issue with peak oil does not hinge around remaining reserves. Rather, the critical issues are energy returns on energy invested (EROEI) and deliverability….
We may have used up much less than half of the world’s originally-recoverable reserves of oil, but we have, necessarily, resorted first to those reserves which are most readily and cheaply recovered. The reserves that remain are certain to be more difficult and costlier to extract.
Production may not ‘peak’ just yet, but a new concept (which we term ‘resource constraint’) may soon kick in, implying that an economic model based on abundant and ever-increasing hydrocarbon inputs might be running out of road.

The reality about current oil production efforts—most notably those involving hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling [“fracking”] to which must of our recent surges in oil production is attributed—is that the process is much more expensive, carries many (and wide-ranging) adverse environmental consequences, and delivers a product not nearly as energy dense/efficient as conventional crude oil has for more than a century.

We’re resorting to shale formations as our go-to energy fields because the conventional crude “good” stuff is no longer as plentiful or accessible. Relying on ever-greater quantities of a finite resource for the ever-expanding needs of an ever-expanding global population runs headfirst into basic math: keep removing X from the finite supply pile leaves less X left in that pile. So now we’re moving down the line into the not-as-good-stuff.

And among the problems clearly associated with the not-as-good-stuff is that it takes more effort and money to get it from there to here . That means even less of the energy we all need is left over after the additional energy inputs required to produce tight oil from shale formations: [EROEI – the energy return on energy invested]. Not good math. Those wells deplete much more rapidly than do the wells from conventional crude reserves, so even more effort and energy and money is needed because more wells must be drilled just to keep up. Also not good math.

Certainly the development of hydraulic fracturing has produced an impressive increase in oil production over the last few years. But those limitations mentioned above aren’t helpful for those counting on more of that Business As Usual for many more years to come. The technology is impressive, but impressive technology employed against finite resources carrying their own set of daunting challenges will only take us so far.

[E]xpecting a technological solution to occur would be extremely unwise, because technology uses energy – it does not create it. To expect technology to provide an answer would be equivalent to locking the finest scientific minds in a bank-vault, providing them with enormous computing power and vast amounts of money, and expecting them to create a ham sandwich.
In the absence of such a breakthrough, really promising energy sources (such as concentrated solar power) need to be pursued together, above all, with social, political and cultural adaptation to ‘life after growth’.

That’s not good news for any of us. The sooner all of us recognize that, the sooner we can begin to address with the requisite levels of seriousness, expertise, and cooperation mandated to deal with adaptation.

Our other option isn’t all that appealing. But perhaps it’s just me:

If EROEI falls materially, our consumerist way of life is over.
There are two really nasty stings in the tail of a declining EROEI. First, net energy availability may fall below the amount required for essential purposes including healthcare, government and law. It is hardly too much to say that a declining EROEI could bomb societies back into the pre-industrial age.
Indeed, a decrease in net energy below subsistence levels is an implicit consequence of EROEI decline beyond a certain point – one which is difficult to estimate, but is likely to occur within the next decade – which means that this is when the nastiest results of all start happening.
Second, of course, a decline in net energy availability could (indeed, almost certainly will) result in conflict driven by competition for access to diminishing surplus energy resources.

Opportunity beckons….
 
~ My Photo: Manhattan Beach, CA – 02.23.14

 

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

       * Looking Left and Right

A blog examining the liberal vs. conservative conflicts in our society

 

       * Life Will Answer

Thought-provoking inquiries & observations about how (and why) Life does … and does not, work for everyone. [Inspired by my book of the same name]


       * The Middle Age Follies

A column offering a slightly skewed look at life for those of us on the north side of 50

 

Looking Left and Right:
Inspiring Different Ideas,
Envisioning Better Tomorrows

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