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Peak Oil Matters

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

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Tag: ingenuity

 

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A moment’s pause to consider the practical realities of billions of others looking to improve their lifestyles on any scale by which we measure our own progress and achievements should realize immediately that a finite set of ever-more-challenging-to-acquire energy supplies needed to power those advances can only be spread so thin.

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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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Who among us—proponents, deniers, or those with no opinion or knowledge about the issue of peak oil—doesn’t want our marvelous capitalist system to continue uninterrupted, taking us to higher and higher levels of technological achievements? Who is willing to voluntarily give up any opportunity to share in the enormous wealth such progress is sure to create?

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Remember, peaking in production, by definition, means that you have plenty of oil left. It has nothing to do with running out.…[T]he only people who ever use the phrase ‘running out of oil’ are people who either don’t understand Peak Oil, or people trying to mislead an audience about Peak Oil. Because again, if you can successfully mislead an audience and frame the argument as ‘No more oil’ vs ‘We still have oil’ – you again set yourself up for an easy debate victory. [1]

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One could argue that the most dangerous push in our energy/environment discussion is that which seeks to stop/limit oil production and/or divest from oil companies. That’s because our primary fuel has nowhere near a significant substitute. As such, publicly-traded oil companies are the lone bastion between us and a complete reliance on OPEC. [1]

Well … sure, I guess one could argue that … “Big Oil: Leaping Tall Buildings … for Truth, Justice, and the American Way….

One could also argue this: given that oil is a finite resource becoming increasingly more challenging and expensive to locate and produce—among other inconvenient truths—perhaps we might urge industry and elected leaders to … you know … think about the future in terms other than “let’s maximize oil revenues and our bank accounts today.”

Pursuing the one-track approach to our energy supply today and tomorrow has its advantages, at least for some. But for all the horn-tooting about human ingenuity from industry cheerleaders, there’s not much of a contribution from within to look past the bottom line and apply that ingenuity to alternative future energy needs.

Fossil fuel supply will be even more problematical in the years ahead. Ignoring that factor is a strategy, of course. It sucks, but it’s a strategy—just not a consequence-free one.

Oil companies are warning there will be a price to pay — a much higher price — for all the cost cutting being done today to cope with the collapse in the crude market. Big projects intended to start pumping oil and natural gas 5 to 10 years from now are being canceled or put on hold as the price crash forced $114 billion in spending cuts on the industry.
Energy giants from Exxon Mobil Corp. to Royal Dutch Shell say they’re taking a much more cautious approach to approving projects that cost billions and take years to complete. That’s setting the table for a future oil-price shock when a growing world population drives higher demand, said oil executives and financiers [at a recent energy conference]. [2]

Keeping the foot to the pedal might be the preferred approach today, but that trip will end badly for more than just investors and oil industry executives.

No one on this side of the peak oil debate is denying that demand continues to grow and/or that citizens in less-developed nations shouldn’t do all they can to improve their standards of living and quality of life. We also recognize how absolutely vital fossil fuels have been to our own progress and how deeply-imbedded the fossil fuel industry has been and continues to be in powering human society.

It’s a statement of both the reality and the problem. All of the chest-thumping won’t change the fact that fossil fuels are finite resources no longer as readily available or easy/inexpensive to produce as in days gone by. Deluding oneself into thinking that somehow and someway magical thinking will ride to the rescue just in the nick of time won’t alter that reality. Shocking, but true. Facts suck.

A more-reasoned and wiser consideration of facts and our future might not be the preferred strategy of the few, but the many will surely benefit more from a broader, reality-based assessment of life now and what we’d all like it to be in the years to come. Fossil fuels will continue to play a critical role, but that one-way road will come to an unpleasant end long before we’re prepared for it if we all continue to be taken for that ride.

~ My Photo: Rockport, MA – 09.11.10

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/judeclemente/2015/04/19/three-reasons-oil-will-continue-to-run-the-world/; Three Reasons Oil Will Continue to Run the World, by Jude Clemente – 04.19.15
[2] http://www.rigzone.com/news/oil_gas/a/138224/Big_Oils_Latest_Fear_A_Price_Shock_After_114_Billion_of_Cuts; Big Oil’s Latest Fear: A Price Shock After $114 Billion of Cuts, by Bradley Olson – 04.22.15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

~ My Photo: A Different View – Gloucester MA 10.03.14

 

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

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Such a nice story of American derring-do! If being glib, sliding past facts and honesty, and uttering inanities to satisfy others are the keys to success, then we might be on the verge of a whole new wave of multi-zillionaires!  continue reading…

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An observation worth noting … and pondering, from Knovel Corp: continue reading…

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It is unfortunate, however, that we cannot look at the real problem. Unless we can understand the problem as it really is, it is impossible to find solutions that might actually be helpful. [1] continue reading…

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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 continue reading…