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Peak Oil Matters

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


Tag: municipalities







An observation worth noting … and pondering, from the International Energy Agency:

…pre-planning is essential in order for transport demand restraint measures to succeed during an emergency. It is not enough for countries to have a list of measures to use; they must be ready to implement those measures on very short notice. To do this, they generally must develop detailed plans and make certain investments ahead of time. Communicating this plan to the public also appears very important; if the public is not well informed of plans ahead of time, and supportive of them, they may be less likely to cooperate and do their part to help the plans succeed during an emergency. Strong support and cooperation from the business community is also essential. In general, providing clear information to the public – that the public can trust – seems to be an important element of any plan. [1]

It’s been a consistent theme of mine that the impacts of Peak Oil will extend to all segments of our society—social and industrial.

Peak Oil is not an event that’s going to happen at a designated yet undetermined point in time. It will become the foundational energy aspect of our lives. Given how much we depend on fossil fuels—crude oil in particular—it borders on the insane to ignore the many facts suggesting an endless change in the energy source we’ve collectively relied upon for well over a century. Oil plays a prominent role in the supply, manufacture, distribution, and transportation of almost every product or service we rely upon at home, at work, in our communities, in our industries, and in the technologically astounding lifestyles we’ve created for ourselves.

The easily accessible, reasonably affordable, high-quality crude oil we’ve utilized in countless ways through the magnificent displays of our technological prowess and ingenuity has been on a plateau of production since the middle of the last decade. We’re now resorting to costlier, more energy-sucking, inferior quality, harder to access substitutes.

For all the Happy Talk about the vast this or that potential, the numbers do not add up. We’re not going to be able to seamlessly transition everything from crude oil to unconventional substitutes.

The public continues to be underserved by fanciful claims which artfully skate around the facts which cast a long shadow over their exuberant claims of energy independence and a worry-free energy future.

Business leaders don’t blindly open themselves to new markets; professional coaches don’t just show up for the next game; and families don’t wake up every morning and just wing it from start to finish. Each of them and countless others making plans for whatever endeavors they are about to undertake—consequential or not—do not succeed without first relying on facts at hand. Plans are meaningless without them.

Peak Oil will be high on the list of “Consequential” undertakings, given the wide swath it will carve through all our lives. Not having accurate and complete information makes it a wee bit difficult for individuals, companies, teams, local governments, state officials, national organizations, and our federal government to consider viable—any—options. That’s not a strategy. But so far, that’s all we’ve got.

We’re better than that.

~ My Photo: Newport Beach, CA – 02.12.06

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[1]; Saving Oil in a Hurry, 2005 report – p. 15







Oil plays an essential role in almost everything that touches our everyday lives. From the food we eat to the means by which we transport ourselves, our goods, and our services, to what we grow, build, have, own, need, and do, oil is almost always an important element. But the painful truth now and soon is that the ready supply of oil and gas that we almost always take for granted is on its way to becoming not-so-ready—recent production increases notwithstanding.

What happens when there’s not enough to meet all of our demands, to say nothing of those of every other nation—including the many countries seeking more growth and prosperity? What sacrifices will we be called upon to make? Which products will no longer be as readily available? Which services? Who decides? What will be decided? Who delivers that message to the designers and producers and shippers and end users? What’s their Plan B? And how will we respond when decisions are taken out of our hands? Where exactly will the dominoes tumble?

There is nothing on the horizon that will work as an adequate substitute for the efficiencies and low cost and ease of accessibility that oil has provided us. We simply do not have the means to make that happen—not the technological capabilities, not the personnel, not the industries, not the leadership … yet. Clearly, we do not have enough time to do it all with effortless ease and minimal disruptions.

Piecemeal approaches that address some small aspect of need for some short period of time in some limited geographical area for just a few consumers is in the end a monumental waste of limited resources, time, and effort. We can’t wait until we’re up to our eyeballs in Peak Oil’s impact to start figuring out what to do. We’re too close as it is. We’re going to have to be much better, much wiser, and much more focused. **

Here’s the latest contribution to my Peak Oil’s Impact series—observations and commentary on how Peak Oil’s influence will be felt in little, never-give-it-thought, day-to-day aspects of the conventional crude oil-based Life As We’ve Known It. Changes in all that we do, use, own, make, transport, etc., etc., are inevitable. A little food for thought….

I don’t need a watch or a clock weekday mornings to know when it’s eight o’clock. All I need to do is peek outside my office window at home and watch the procession of automobiles queuing up in front of our home. It begins about five minutes before eight, and ten minutes later, the long line of cars has vanished.

For comical relief, watching the procession of cars inch up the long hill (which is essentially all that my street is) is especially amusing when it’s snowing. Freezing rain is a hoot!

About one hundred feet to the left of my house is a fairly busy residential intersection, all the more so at morning rush hour. One block over is my town’s only middle school. Three blocks to the west is one of a half-dozen or so elementary schools. The intersection is a short break from hill climbing. The elementary school sits even farther up the hill from where I am. So when most cars are stuck in traffic at the nearby intersection in snow and ice, we’re usually serenaded by the sounds of wheels spinning to gain any traction at all. On more than a few occasions, drivers have turned around and risked driving back down the hill in those same conditions because they simply cannot gain enough traction to continue the climb.

It’s not nearly as much fun as it seems, given that we face the same dilemma as soon as we back out of our driveway: skate downhill or hope we find a sweet spot on the road which enables us to make the climb.

Almost all of these morning drivers are dropping their children off at one/both of the neighborhood schools. Our town does not supply bus transportation for most students. Many walk to and from the two schools, but others can’t or don’t for whatever reason. No doubt these similar scenes play out who knows how many millions of times each and every school day across the country.

And we’re back to the standard question I’ll continue to ask until we collectively start finding answers: When the supply of depleting conventional crude oil continues to decline, and reliance turns to the inadequate supply of inferior quality, more expensive, harder to come by unconventional sources such as the tight shale formations in the U.S. and the Canadian tar sands cheered on by certain factions of the energy and media industries, what gets prioritized in our own homes and in our communities when dealing with transporting our children to and from school?

What adjustments will even higher prices and less availability of transportation fuels oblige us all to make in this most routine of daily parenting rituals? If walking/biking is not an option for whatever reasons, what’s our Plan B for getting our children to and from school each day? What’s the local school system’s plan? Teachers own transportation issues?

I’m thinking we’ll need more than a school committee meeting or two to figure this out. When might we start thinking about this issue (the list is growing)?

~ My Photo: our son and a friend parasailing – 02.22.05 [not a travel option!]

** Opening paragraphs adapted from prior posts:


Following up on last week’s post about yesterday’s Super Bowl, these two articles seemed especially noteworthy:

Matt Reichel
4 Ways the Super Bowl Sucks For New Orleanians

~ ~ ~

Lou Carlozo
January 2013
From Beer Ads to Beer Runs, a Look at This Year’s Super Bowl Costs

The official mourning period is now over, and I’m once again able to discuss the Super Bowl in somewhat dispassionate terms (%^&$*$ Eli Manning! Sorry….)

What if there was no Super Bowl game?

In a January article entitled “Super Bowl 2012: Indianapolis Invites Visitors for Weeklong Celebration” by Mark Johanson, city officials were said to be expecting 150,000 visitors during Super Bowl weekend (nearly 70,000 of whom would attend the game itself). Another source suggested the number was more likely in excess of a million….

In Diana Lind’s piece (“The Economic Mixed Bag That is the Super Bowl“), she reported that while the National Football League claims that the host city for the Super Bowl receives revenues totaling anywhere from $300 to $500 million, Indianapolis was expecting less than half of that lofty amount ($150 million was the stated estimate, and the calculations for that were questioned as being too optimistic and inaccurate as well, as Lind noted).

Having been lucky enough to attend a Super Bowl several years ago (much happier memory—the Patriots won that one!), I can personally attest to the fact that it is indeed quite the spectacle.    The Colts home city appears to have left no stone unturned in its efforts to present itself in the best possible light while offering fans and visitors the full scope of Super Bowl pageantry.

The Johanson piece quoted a Convention & Visitors Association official as promising a complete transformation of the downtown area, filled with “food carts, vendors, three stages, warming stations, food and beverage” with the intent of re-making that part of Indianapolis into an Olympic Village. And for those not satisfied with that (?), Johanson reported that there would also be “interactive games, concert stages, bars and restaurants, and a so-called ‘Tailgate Town,’” together with “four zip lines” enabling users to “fly over the Super Bowl Village.” Not to be outdone, the “NFL Experience” located at the Convention Center serves as the sport’s interactive theme park with all the bells and whistles one might expect: “participatory games, displays, entertainment attractions, kid’s football clinics, free autograph sessions, and the largest football memorabilia show ever staged.”

I am not nearly versed enough in the intricacies of planning such an event, but it stands to reason that a lot of time, effort, equipment, personnel, machinery, and transportation is needed to turn an American city into the center of the pro football universe (and for that matter, the entertainment one as well, given that the game itself drew more than 117 million viewers—a new television-viewing record, topping the 2011 Super Bowl audience.)

Granted, the Super Bowl is not your average sporting event (not with secondary market ticket prices starting in excess of $2000 per, and “a field-level luxury suite with a capacity of 35 people can be yours for $650,000!” as noted in a Huffington Post article by Andrew Brandt). The “normal” ticket-purchasing fan is not the typical attendee at the Super Bowl, and the marketing aspects attending the event are far from routine, given that it is the biggest event of the year for most advertisers.

Brandt’s article went on to report that NBC received more than $250 million just from TV advertising, and (citing other sources, including this one) that “5 million people are projected to buy new televisions in preparation for the game, and fans are expected to spend $11 billion on Super Bowl-related purchases (including the consumption of 1.25 billion chicken wings).” That’s a lot of grocery stores, caterers, restaurants, sporting goods stores, electronics stores, party-favor suppliers, etc., etc., reaping tangential benefits. (Wikipedia reports it’s the second-largest day for food consumption in America; Thanksgiving is first.) Brandt also pointed out that the city’s 6000-plus hotel rooms were all sold out (at inflated rates, no doubt), leaving many visitors obliged to stay at facilities nearly an hour away (also at exorbitantly higher rates.)

That’s a lot of traveling (personal and commercial), together with a lot of supplying and delivering. (Johnson’s article reported that “Over 1,000 private planes are expected on the ground during the weekend ushering in countless celebrities.”)

John Russell and Jon Murray wrote a separate article at the website that one national restaurant chain in particular drew more than 1200 people to its facility in Indianapolis over Super Bowl weekend, more than double its usual amount. Obviously merchants and retailers expect/hope to reap secondary benefits from consumers who leave with favorable impressions of the service or product and might thus frequent those same commercial establishments in other locations. Certainly the host city itself likewise expects/hopes to attract additional tourists and convention business from the favorable reviews.

However, the Russell/Murray piece also noted that when all relevant revenues (more than $7 million, including several million dollars from the NFL along with hotel and restaurant taxes, etc.) and expenses (labor, insurance, utilities, personnel, security, etc.) are tabulated, the city may be looking at shortfalls of anywhere from $450,000 to nearly $900,000. Not pocket change in this economy….

So I’ll ask again, what if there was no Super Bowl game?

Nearly two years ago, I wrote my first piece about the impact of declining oil/gas supply (i.e. Peak Oil) as it relates to sports and sports travel. In that post, I offered these observations:

How do teams (high school, college, the pros) deal with travel issues and schedules when gas is much too expensive to enable teams to transport their players even short distances, or when air travel is severely curtailed and wildly expensive because not enough jet fuel is being processed to meet demand (and airports are shuttered because air travel has diminished markedly), or when the fans cannot afford to put the gasoline in their vehicles that in the past allowed them to attend the games without a second thought?
What happens when half, or a third, or one-tenth the number of fans can afford to attend games because budgeting all that money to drive to an in- or out-of-state stadium no longer makes financial sense? Pure supply and demand: when demand continues and supply is reduced, prices go up. Decisions are then made about where to allocate funds. Does a trip across the state to attend a Red Sox game make more sense than paying for your children’s basic needs for the next few months?
Where will the revenue to pay players come from when the majority of fans are no longer traveling to see the games either because limited gas supplies are now being allocated or it’s simply become too expensive for “frivolous” trips? How do owners continue to fund their vast operations (office staff, marketing, scouting staffs, minor leagues, utility services for the stadiums and training facilities, and on and on it goes)? What happens to the vendors and other suppliers when the majority of fans just stop attending … permanently?

What happens when the mind-boggling efforts in planning, preparing, transporting, supplying, delivering, etc., etc. needed to stage this incredible event by countless thousands of individuals and merchants and organizations and government officials are simply no longer feasible because every single entity up and down the supply and service chain is faced with the reality of insufficient availability of “affordable”, quality, energy supply to make this extravaganza happen?

How many economic dominoes tumble as a result? How many businesses lose out? How many employees?

I’m not anticipating that the NFL will cease production of the Super Bowl anytime in the near future, but the reality of Peak Oil will affect this event and this organization just as it will every other commercial enterprise. It will take an incredible amount of planning and thought to figure out an appropriate Plan B just for this one event … how much more planning and thought will be needed for everything else?

Just wondering….

Last week, my comfy little Massachusetts town was one of many to endure the brunt of a major nor’easter. Somewhere between 12” – 18” of snow fell in not much more than half a day. The big and little plows of our town worked pretty much nonstop through the pre-dawn hours and on through most of that day to try and keep pace with the impressive storm.

Later that day, the steady cacophony of snow blowers was everywhere. (2 of our 3 children helped me shovel – we don’t own a snow blower, although that would have been a good day to have one!) It’s amazing how high, thick, and heavy snow from the street can be when a plow passes by and dumps it all at the end of one’s driveway … several times!

[And as an aside: this past Sunday morning, I took my wife’s mid-sized German sedan (decent gas mileage and all) and filled the tank with premium gas … $3.59 per gallon. Ten cents more than when I last filled it earlier this month, and if memory serves, 20 cents more than the Christmas-time price. Not a good trend….]

I found myself wondering what happens in years to come, as these massive storms intensify as a likely consequence of climate change. (I could switch political ideologies of course, which would have the primary benefit of ridding me of any concerns about global warming facts and thus more intense storms, but that might ultimately prove to be a limited advantage.) What happens when the storms are more frequent, more snow falls, and I’m a lot older and don’t have the benefit of 1, 2, or 3 able-bodied college-age children to help me dig out (on, I must add, the very steep hill on which our home is situated)?

Snow blowers might very well be relics 5, 10, 20 years down the road. Hard to imagine that fossil-fueled machines like that will have a place in most garages. Wind-powered snow blowers? Not so likely.

But that’s a small matter. Of course, plastic shovels may be a lot more expensive, given that we won’t have as much fossil fuel available to help manufacture and/or distribute those plastic items—given that petroleum is an important element in the manufacture and use of plastics. Metal shovels aren’t likely to be any less expensive, either … transportation costs and all will increase, and that means those costs get passed on to those of us buying the shovels … when we can find them. Not likely to be as many of them around….The cost of, and to run, the needed machinery; higher utility bills and similar costs at those industrial facilities, and all those other little extras that we tend not to think about when we swipe our credit cars at the local hardware store will all be that much more pronounced in the years to come as we find ourselves with less and less oil available to not just fuel transportation, but to serve as an irreplaceable component to manufacturing and distribution.

There are no signs as yet that the magic of technology will be able to seamlessly step in and allow industry to continue on as is with nary a glitch. What then?

Back to those plows. When diesel fuel production is similarly curtailed of necessity, how will the remaining smaller portions be allocated?

There are no doubt tens of thousands upon tens of thousands of similarly-fueled vehicles in dozens of northern states (now, even some southern ones), and their hundreds upon hundreds of cities and towns. Each and every one of those municipalities depends on fossil fuels to power the sanders and salters and plows which enable all of us hardy souls in colder climates to get around in the winter.

What criteria are states going to use to ensure that each community has a remotely-sufficient supply of fuel for its municipal plows (to say nothing of all of its other municipal vehicles)?

We live at the top of one of our town’s steepest roads. When it snows in any measureable amount, getting up and down our street becomes a bit of an adventure, to put it mildly. (Last winter we had to request a town sander to come to our home in order that one of our daughters could turn her vehicle into our driveway. The ice on the street and steepness of the hill rendered her immobile less than twenty feet away! Not nearly as much fun as one might think….I’m guessing we won’t have the luxury of that option too many more years from now.)

So what does happen when municipalities are confronted with the difficult and painful realization that they simply will not have enough fuel to power their snow-removal vehicles? Which locations or neighborhoods within each community will be serviced first, and how are those assessments going to be made in such a way that the remaining eighty percent or so of residents and business owners aren’t immediately raising a ruckus?

Aside from the obvious fire, police, hospital locations, what’s next? (Is that in fact obvious?) Are only primary streets going to be plowed? How is that designation going to be made? Do people whose homes were built on the hilly streets get next priority, or do they have to get at the back of the line? Are only some of the steep streets eligible for priority plowing?

I can assure you that once a half a foot or so of snow has fallen—notwithstanding the all-wheel drive features of my and my wife’s vehicles—we’re not going anywhere until our street is plowed. The steepness of the hill makes it impossible to gain traction to get to the top of our street some one hundred feet or so from our driveway, and the nearly thousand-foot descent is treacherous at best in inclement weather. Freezing rain? Make no plans. Lose control on the way down and there are lots of trees on either side of the road that will serve as a final resting place for skidding vehicles. Thanks, but no thanks!

Are lotteries conducted at the first snow fall, with “winners” being assured that their streets are plowed first? How well is that likely to sit with those holding all the non-winning “tickets”? Are some areas simply going to have to wait for melting temperatures if snowfall totals are by some criteria determined to not merit plowing at all?

Less plows needed, less plows manufactured. Less available plows means less plowing jobs, and we all know by now what that means. The dominoes tumble quickly.

What happens to all the individuals who depend on private contractors/other residents with plows? If gas is no longer as readily available for ordinary passenger and commercial vehicles, on what basis will the owner of a pickup truck and plow be deemed to have priority in acquiring gas over, say, a nurse at the local hospital, or the owner of the town’s primary grocery store, or … or … ? Why will the owners of some private parking lots be deemed to have plowing priorities over equally-deserving others? Mall parking lots or school parking lots? Plow today, or plow perhaps in a day or two? If multiple storms are forecast in a relatively short period of time (not uncommon here in the Northeast), does everyone have to wait for plowing until after the second storm has passed so as to conserve fuel and fuel costs?

I’m sure that others can conjure up dozens of other consideration and questions just as important as these. Is anyone thinking about this right now?

It is surely not a problem in isolation. Very few challenges brought about by declining oil production will lend themselves to facile, straight-out-of-the-box solutions. One problem begets another which begets more still.

No one wants to have to deal with any of this, of course. One can simply hope that the problems either go away, don’t materialize to begin with, won’t be as severe, or won’t happen for many, many decades into the future (with the hope that by then we’ll have just figured it all out by accident), but are those strategies ones that thousands and thousands of communities and their millions of citizens ought to be relying on?

Now is when we need to turn the immense skill and capability and potential of our citizens and industries and leaders to work to not just prepare for Peak Oil, but to transcend it. Are we up to the challenge?

Just wondering….

More to come next week!