Peak Oil


Fiercely Interdependent
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In a farmhouse, on a farm. With goats.
Conspiracy theory or reality?

I've recently read Richard Heinberg's books The Party's Over and Power Down, which don't pretend that a terminal energy crisis isn't already upon us, and I've now moved on to the classic Small is Beautiful by EF Schumacher. Schumacher may be a bit of a rhetorical genius, plus he's got a good bit of common sense of wisdom.

The reality of our situation, as I see it, is that we have been progressively and exponentially squandering--wasting!--the once-given geologic reserves of fossil fuels. Not only is oil finite and destined to be exhausted by our ever-increasing energy demands; the economic precursors and descendents of that super-industrial fuel--coal and natural gas--are also finite.

Renewable resources are certainly an option, but solar, wind, and tidal energy cannot begin to replace the vast energy glut we have been increasingly wallowing in during the period of industrial civilization. Besides that, each of them--with the arguable exception of solar panels--comes with a rather heavy environmental price: farms of windmills pose the threat of slicing up mass numbers of birds, while both tidal and river dams threaten fish and other marine life.

Even if these negative environmental impacts were somehow mitigated or even completely done away with, indications are that we would need hundreds of thousands of square miles of wind and solar farms to create a workable amount of energy for civilization at its current scale--and even then, we would be operating at power levels much lower than we have become accustomed.

Nuclear power is just stupid, because at any level it creates radioactive waste that takes tens to hundreds of thousands of years to decay. The costs of building nuclear power plants plus creating tombs in which to bury and monitor the waste are astronomical, from what I gather.

So to me it seems clear that we are all in for a rude awakening as we power down from our industrial binge. What we need is a return to human-scale communities and technologies, and to work towards humanely decreasing population and getting right with the comparatively meager energy income we receive as a bounty from the sun.

While turning off lights, minimizing computer and teevee usage, biking and walking are all noble steps that we can take as individuals, we need a concerted, concentrated effort from the highest levels of political organization to dismantle corporations and other large-scale energy consumers--which ironically means that we will have to ask governments to scale down their own bureaucratic bulks. Finally, we should see the "War on Terror" for the corporate lie that it is, divest our resources from the military, and re-invest those resources (really, it's all just debt anyway) into civil programs that will help grow local and regional economies in the best sense of that word--economies based on people, community agriculture, crafts, and necessary services--not the production and marketing of useless plastic crap.

This is a radical prescription, and we need to seriously think about advocating and implementing strategies like these that I am suggesting in the very near future. Already we are in for a shocking, bumpy decline. The sooner we can get started in real, good work, the better off we will all be.
Couple silly points.

Radioactive waste. Where does the uranium/plutonium come from? Is it not radioactive now? When we utilize it in a power plant is it more radioactive when we are done, less or the same? Why can't we put it back where we got it from and be radioactive neutral for that mine, mountain or whatever?

Oil, finite? As long as the dollars keep going up it appears we'll find places to extract it from. Montana is looking to create a synthetic gas out of their coal....all of these have carbon issues which is the big problem or the perceived big problem...removing sequestered carbon and putting it into circulation via burning.

I'm looking at building an electric car with my son, however it still takes power to charge.
They've come up with cars that get 150 mpg. They just haven't marketed them yet.

Hybrid Gets 150 Miles Per Gallon Using Ultracapacitors | MetaEfficient Reviews

Bellevue company builds 150 MPG hybrid car | Environment News | | News for Seattle, Washington

As for other energy, I heard from one environmental scientist that if we covered Nevada in solar panels, it would power the nation. I say, go for it, except for the cities. There isn't a ton going on in Nevada and much of the Federal land is already a wreck from overgrazing combined with drought, which will get worse with global warming. Buy out the ranchers there and relocate them, and put up the panels and a national electric grid. Solar and perhaps wind are the only forms of power that are not really environmentally costly. Anything water/dam related is really bad news environmentally. Nuclear- bad. Fossil fuels- bad.

So we'd sacrifice most of Nevada. Life is like that. You have to give to get. It's about the smallest sacrifice we'd make environmentally to have reliable power and get away from fossil fuels.

Yes, we might have to stop using our air conditioners as much and *gasp* be hot every so often. Or, in the winter, *gasp* put on a sweater. Dare I say it, we might even have to stop powering so many appliances and actually deal with less well-lit stores and even not open stores once a week. Oh, no. Deal with any inconvenience and disruption to our consumerist "gimme now" culture? The horror! :rolleyes:
... There isn't a ton going on in Nevada ...
So we'd sacrifice most of Nevada. Life is like that. You have to give to get. It's about the smallest sacrifice we'd make environmentally to have reliable power and get away from fossil fuels.
Sacrifice Nevada?? Nothing going on there??

We won't drill in the ANWR where maybe 2,000 people eek out an existence, where we have to protect the tundra. And you are ready to mirror the entire state of Nevada?? I was dreamin of retiring in Yerrington. Ever been to Berlin, an old one whore ghost town, and seen an ichthysaurus? the state park has a herd of them that beached themselves. Your 800 miles from any ocean and on the side of a mountain 5,000 feet above sea level and looking at 70 foot long fish lizards that beached themselves. We think sonar and some modern technology causes whales to run upriver and beach themselves...well what did it to the ichthysaurus?

Teddy won't let them put windmills in the ocean because it will spoil his view and you are ready to cover Nevada in solar panels...

(note: I know you think we always but heads...and it appears we the hell do you know where my buttons are???)
We won't drill in the ANWR where maybe 2,000 people eek out an existence, where we have to protect the tundra.

It's not all about the people for me, wil. Sorry, it just isn't. Alaska is one of the last big unbroken tracts in the US that has a very unique ecological mix of stuff.

I've been in Nevada and done fieldwork there. There are some lovely spots and Yerrington is one of them. I suppose we could spread out the panels over parts of Arizona and preserve pockets of desert that isn't already so messed up that it's like the moon.

But the fact remains that it is highly likely that global warming will turn much of the Southwest into something resembling the Sahara desert. So we might as well deal with it.

I am not so glib as I seem, just trying to be realistic. Our options are not that great if we want to keep cold beer, computers, and all our TVs. Any form of electricity generation carries an environmental cost.

I'm not necessarily against windmills, either, but from what I understand they don't generate as much power as solar and are more problematic for upkeep. The other options carry a much higher environmental cost. Things like dams are awful for the environment and this has been proven time and again.

One option I think no one has really explored is obtaining power from the heat that comes from deep ocean floor vents. At this time, it is probably too difficult to transport it efficiently. But that would be the ultimate source because it is sustainable and is basically coming from the core of the earth itself.

(note: I know you think we always but heads...and it appears we the hell do you know where my buttons are???)

Actually, I figure we agree a lot and disagree occasionally.

Maybe I'm reading your mind and then giving you a poke. ;)
Hydrogen folks...hydrogen.

The Myth of the Hydrogen Economy said:
Free hydrogen is not an energy source; it is rather an energy carrier.

More: The Myth of the Hydrogen Economy | Energy Bulletin

Briefly: the energy that we have derive from a barrel of oil is extraordinary. As oil reserves dwindle and oil becomes more difficult to extract or requires new technological developments to extract, the cost-benefit ratio of extracting oil declines significantly. At some point, extracting a barrel of oil will require using the energy of a barrel of oil. At that point, oil will simply cease being a practical source of energy. It will instead become an energy drain, if anyone is foolish enough to try to extract what is left.

Converting oil shale to usable petroleum and other processing/refining of energy sources (such as the coal into synthetic gas that wil brought up) are all incredibly inefficient compared to mining crude oil. This is just to make the points that 1) the energy we extract form these methods will be less than what we have become accustomed to and 2) the fact that these alternatives are seriously being discussed seems to support the idea that oil supplies are finite and dwindling.

Path of One said:
One option I think no one has really explored is obtaining power from the heat that comes from deep ocean floor vents. At this time, it is probably too difficult to transport it efficiently. But that would be the ultimate source because it is sustainable and is basically coming from the core of the earth itself.

I'm not sure if you are familiar with methane hydrates or if this is similar to the kind of thing you are talking about. Heinberg mentions them in Power Down and has some serious concerns about the dangers of extracting and even using methane hydrates. Something to be aware of, for sure, as there are people who are advocating deep-sea mining for methane hydrates. Also, there's some talk of deposits of methane hydrates being released by global warming without any further help from industry.

A couple of links:
Methane fuel puts planet in danger | World news | The Observer
Methane Fuel Puts Planet in Danger said:
A cubic metre of hydrate releases an incredible 164 cubic metres of methane, one of the most powerful greenhouse gases known to science.

Climate Progress » Blog Archive » Methane Hydrates: What’s the worst — and best — that could happen?
Climate Progress said:
The worst that could happen is a climate catastrophe if they were released suddenly, as some people believed happened during the Permian-Triassic extinction event and the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. The best that could happen is if they could be recovered at a large scale safely — then they would be an enormous new source of natural gas, the lowest-carbon and most efficient-burning fossil fuel.

Melting Methane: A Storehouse of Greenhouse Gases Is Opening in Siberia - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News
A Storehouse of Greenhouse Gases is Opening in Siberia said:
Researchers have found alarming evidence that the frozen Arctic floor has started to thaw and release long-stored methane gas. The results could be a catastrophic warming of the earth, since methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Converting oil shale to usable petroleum and other processing/refining of energy sources (such as the coal into synthetic gas that wil brought up) are all incredibly inefficient compared to mining crude oil.
The governor of Montana indicated he had coal reserves which would cover the US for the next 200 years if converted to synthetic gas. Evidently Montana was ready to start in the 70's when we had a gas shortage and oil shot upto $35 a barrel, but when he was going to put technology online and the pipeline was being built in Alaska OPEC dropped their prices to $8 per barrel to undercut research on alternatives. I'm sure the price per barrel today would be sufficient. In addition his announcement would scare the speculators and OPEC yet again and we'd see the price plummet.
Radioactive waste. Where does the uranium/plutonium come from? Is it not radioactive now? When we utilize it in a power plant is it more radioactive when we are done, less or the same? Why can't we put it back where we got it from and be radioactive neutral for that mine, mountain or whatever?

Namaste Wil,

I just came across a passage in a book that speaks to your questions here, and would like to share it. In In the Absence of the Sacred, Jerry Mander quotes a German writer, Claus Biegert, who organized the World Uranium Hearing in 1992. From the booklet promoting the event, Mander quotes the following passage:

Death is everywhere that uranium touches. But what we perhaps don't realize is that the destructive properties of uranium are unleashed the moment it's mined from the ground. The victims are usually indigenous peoples of the earth... it contaminates their food, their drinking water, and it turns their sacred places into restricted dumpsites.... Over 70 percent of the world's uranium resources lie buried in lands inhabited by indigenous peoples.... [Yet] the dumpsites go unprotected. Wind and rain spread the deadly, carcinogenic dust from the tailings, contaminating the surrounding countryside.... Still, we speak of nuclear technology's "peaceful" use.

Native peoples tell us that uranium should stay in the ground--but their voices are lost in the wind. Tribal peoples possess the knowledge of the past that could help heal and restore the earth--but their views are in confict with the nuclearized, neo-colonial mindset of the multinational energy corporations. We in the West are in possession of the most advanced strain of ignorance the world has ever developed.... Native peoples don't think [this] way. By resisting the repeated incursions of industrial society inyo their lands, their cultures and their religions, they have heroically preserved a worldview which carries the concept of sacred earth.... It's time we listened.

So why can't we put it back where it came from? This is kind of a tricky question, isn't it? It seems reasonable enough to suggest that we should be able to mine the uranium, use it, and then put it back--kind of tidy up. But it seems that in the process the uranium is scattered widely over the land and into the air, and that it is not easy to just put back into the ground. Once it is disturbed, it is thrown loose into the world, whereas if we leave it underground where it belongs, it is of course still uranium, but is not the threat that it becomes once it is dug up and messed with.
Thank you for that pathless.

The comment that it lies where indigenous people live...odds are everyone got sick there, and that is why our treaties moved them there in the first place!

You figure veins of ore had to reach the surface and folks learned not to live there...

Looks like as oil gets the shaft we'll be seeing more nukes, everyone is always pointing to France's success..
It's kind of ironic, because I remember reading a quote from a magazine article from the year 1900 warning that fossil fuel reserves were about to run out...
If I might chime in...

I don't have a problem with the US securing better energy sources, up to the point of nuke. I realize they've got a pretty good track record ever since the scares of three mile island and chernobyl, but the waste is what concerns me.

I'm sure the tailings are a problem too, but what do you do with the waste?

The only I have found out about to this point is that some of it is being stored deep in the Carlsbad caverns, in an isolated and restricted part.

Of course, that doesn't account for the steel drums full of the waste ditched in the ocean just outside of San Francisco right after WWII...I remember the concern over the drums rusting away and the contents escaping and what to do about it...encase in concrete, etc. Never heard what came of that, I'm sure the drums would have eroded by now. Scary to think of.

Ever seen a rail car they use to ship that stuff off? Looks like a huge coffin.
The thing that struck me first about the Schumacher book (I have it out of the library right now) is the point that we treat fossil fuels as an income when they are actually a capital resource. Taking this one step further the most sensible use of that capital is to invest it in providing renewable resources which really can be treated like an income.
Endless oil
Russian research has shown that the Earth doesn't need dinosaurs to produce oil
Lawrence Solomon, Financial Post Published: Saturday, September 12, 2009
Do dead dinosaurs fuel our cars? The assumption that they do, along with other dead matter thought to have formed what are known as fossil fuels, has been an article of faith for centuries. Our geologists are taught fossil fuel theory in our schools; our energy companies search for fossil fuels by divining where the dinosaurs lay down and died. Sooner or later, we will run out of liquefied dinosaurs and be forced to turn to either nuclear or renewable fuels, virtually everyone believes.
Except in Russia and Ukraine. What is to us a matter of scientific certainty is by no means accepted there. Many Russians and Ukrainians -- no slouches in the hard sciences -- have since the 1950s held that oil does not come exclusively, or even partly, from dinosaurs but is formed below the Earth's 25-mile deep crust. This theory -- first espoused in 1877 by Dmitri Mendeleev, who also developed the periodic table -- was rejected by geologists of the day because he postulated that the Earth's crust had deep faults, an idea then considered absurd. Mendeleev wouldn't be vindicated by his countrymen until after the Second World War when the then-Soviet Union, shut out of the Middle East and with scant petroleum reserves of its own, embarked on a crash program to develop a petroleum industry that would allow it to fend off the military and economic challenges posed by the West.
Today, Russians laugh at our peak oil theories as they explore, and find, the bounty in the bowels of the Earth. Russia's reserves have been climbing steadily -- according to BP's annual survey, they stood at 45 billion barrels in 2001, 69 billion barrels in 2004, and 80 billion barrels of late, making Russia an oil super power that this year produced more oil than Saudi Arabia. Some oil auditing firms estimate Russia's reserves at up to 200 billion barrels. Despite Russia's success in exploration, most of those in the west who have known about the Russian-Ukrainian theories have dismissed them as beyond the Pale. This week, the Russian Pale can be found awfully close to home.
In a study published in Nature Geoscience, researchers from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Sweden and the Geophysical Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution of Washington joined colleagues at the Lomonosov Moscow State Academy of Fine Chemical Technology in publishing evidence that hydrocarbons can be produced 40 to 95 miles beneath the surface of the Earth. At these depths -- in what's known as Earth's Upper Mantle -- high temperatures and intense pressures combine to generate hydrocarbons. The hydrocarbons then migrate toward the surface of the Earth through fissures in the Earth's crust, sometimes feeding existing pools of oil, sometimes creating entirely new ones. According to Sweden's Royal Institute, "fossils of animals and plants are not necessary to generate raw oil and natural gas. This result is extremely radical as it means that it will be much easier to find these energy sources and that they may be located all over the world."
The Institute's lead author, Vladimir Kutcherov, Professor at the KTH Department of Energy Technology, is even more brash at the implications of his findings: "With the help of our research we even know where oil could be found in Sweden!" he delights. Kutcherov's technique involves dividing the world into a fine-meshed grid that maps cracks (or migration channels) under the Earth's crust, through which the hydrocarbons can bubble up to the surface. His advice: Drill where the cracks meet. Doing this, he predicts, will dramatically reduce the likelihood of dry wells. Kutcherov expects the success rate of drillers to more than triple, from 20% to 70%, saving billions in exploration costs while opening up vast new areas of the planet --most of which has never been deemed to have promise -- to exploration.
The Nature study follows Kutcherov's previous work, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that created hydrocarbons out of water, calcium carbonate and iron -- products in the Earth's mantle. By superheating his ingredients in a pressure chamber at 30,000 times atmospheric pressure, simulating the conditions in the Earth's mantle, Kutcherov's alchemy converted 1.5% of his concoction into hydrocarbons -- gases such as methane as well as components of heavier oils. The implication of this research, which suggests that hydrocarbons are continuously generated through natural processes? Petroleum is a sustainable resource that will last as long as Planet Earth. - Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and Urban Renaissance Institute and author of The Deniers: The world-renowned scientists who stood up against global warming hysteria, political persecution, and fraud.
Endless oil
Oil is indeed endless as it is a natural product of the earth produced by bacteria. Geologists I have worked with when I worked on the rigs were discussing this back in the 80's. Peak oil is a myth designed to herd the population into a particular path.

Check out LS9 which has emulated this process and can now custom make a variety of grades of oil.

Geothermal is a very viable source of energy which, if it actually would be subsidized even a fraction of what the nuke industry gets from the feds this would solve a lot of problems.

* dense plasma focus fusion * Focus Fusion Society: Developing an environmentally safe, clean, low cost, unlimited energy source for everyone.
another excellent solution which was developed under a DARPA program in the 90's. They developed a working prototype and then their funding was cut.
Based on Boron they have estimated very cheap and safe reactors with near endless fuel supplies at a fraction of the costs of all the other technologies, including geothermal and hydrogen.
Peak oil is a scientific fact because oil is for us a finite resource.

It may be seen as infinite because it is a renewable resource but we can't wait millions of years for supplies to be replenished.

Two-thirds of oil-producing countries have reached peak or gone past it. Conventional production peaked in 2006 (confirmed by the IEA), which is why we are now relying on U.S. shale oil. That will peak after only a few years (according to the EIA).

The world economy needs high energy returns and quantity. Every energy source, from solar to hydrogen to shale oil, have low energy returns and quantity. The high energy returns that the world used for decades involved crude oil until the 1970s, but the "easy" oil is now gone. Several sources of energy can only provide electricity (we need fuel for powerful engines to run heavy mining equipment, container ships, etc.) and most cannot provide petrochemicals (used for thousands of products).

Peak oil is about production rate rather than reserves. That's why even with billions of barrels of crude oil available we were forced to use shale oil.

Because crude oil now has low energy returns, the cost of producing it, the marginal cost, and capital expenditures are rising. In order to increase production, we need to spend more money for lower increases each time.

Higher production is needed because more people worldwide need oil for manufacturing, food production, petrochemicals, shipping, etc. Even more is needed because more people worldwide are joining the middle class. The current middle class is relying on that because in order to earn more money or get better returns on their investment more goods and services have to be sold. That requires more oil, fresh water, copper, cement, etc.

It is theoretically possible to use multiple energy sources and move away from oil, but it will require extensive retooling of manufacturing, mechanized agriculture, and shipping, and will take many decades, as most countries even lack basic infrastructure.

Finally, the world faces multiple problems that reinforce each other (peak oil, financial crisis, and global warming together with environmental damage) and more complications arise due to overpopulation, high arms sales, the spread of disease, plant and animal die-offs, etc. That reminds me of a recent study that confirms forecasts made in Limits to Growth.