Ecocentric

The IEA Says Peak Oil Is Dead. That’s Bad News for Climate Policy

A new report suggests that fresh sources of oil in North America will loosen the global oil market. Will we stay addicted to oil—and will it keep us from fighting climate change?

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Brett Gundlock / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Suncor base plant, in the Athabasca Oil Sands, near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on March 26, 2013.

No one—aside maybe from survivalists who’d stocked up on MREs and assault rifles—was really looking forward to a peak-oil world. Read this 2007 GQ piece by Benjamin Kunkel—while we’re discussing topics from the mid-2000s—that imagines what a world without oil would really be like. Think uncomfortable and violent. Oil is in nearly every modern product we use, and it’s still what gets us from point A to point B—especially if you need to get from A to B in a plane. If we were really to see the global oil supply peak and decline sharply, even as demand continued to go up, well, apocalyptic might not be too large a word. And for several years in the middle of the last decade, as oil prices climbed past $100 a barrel and analysts were betting it would break $200, that scenario seemed entirely plausible.

But there was an upside to peak oil. Crude oil was responsible for a significant chunk of global carbon emissions, second only to coal. Only the shock of being severed from the main fuel of modernity would be enough to make us get serious about tackling climate change and shifting to an economy powered by renewable energy and efficiency. We’d have to because we’d have no other choice, save a future that might look something like Mad Max. We’d lose oil but save the world.

Increasingly, though, that doesn’t seem likely to happen. New oil sources, many of them unlocked by new technology—the Canadian oil sands, tight oil in North Dakota and Texas, ultra-deepwater oil in the Atlantic—has helped keep the supply of oil growing, even as greater efficiency measures and other social shifts have helped blunt demand in rich countries like the U.S. Oil isn’t likely to be cheap—a barrel of Brent crude is $102—and getting it out of the ground isn’t going to get any easier. But it’s increasingly likely that we will have more than enough oil in the future to keep the global economy growing and stave off any Mel Gibson-esque apocalypses.

Indeed, a new assessment released yesterday by the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that the surge of supply from North America—most of it from new unconventional sources—will transform the global supply of oil and help ease tight markets. Between now and 2018, the IEA projects that global oil production capacity will grow by 8.4 million barrels a day—significantly faster than demand. Oil isn’t likely to peak any time soon.

And that’s bad news for climate policy.

(MORE: There Will Be Oil—and That’s the Problem)

First the inevitable caveats. The IEA projections—including one that new North American oil “will be as transformative to the market over the next five years as was the rise of Chinese demand over the last 15″—strike a lot of analysts as over the top. Here’s Liam Denning in the Wall Street Journal—the publication that coined the triumphalist term “Saudi America”:

In that decade-and-a-half, China’s demand increased by 5.6 million barrels a day, fully 36% of the world’s overall growth in oil consumption. Oil went to north of $100 a barrel from about $20.

It is a fairly safe bet that even if the shale and sands boom does even better than the IEA forecasts, the world isn’t going back to $20 oil.

The kind of unconventional wells that are buoying new production in the U.S. tend to go dry fast and require a lot of investment. There are also political issues to contend with—see the battle that’s brewed over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which supporters say is key to fully developing the vast Canadian oil sands resource. Production might slow down for economic or political reasons. And even if North American oil keeps booming, we’re not likely to see a return to the rock-bottom prices of the 1990s. Expect to keep paying $3.50 or more for a gallon of gas.

(MORE: Smart Power: Why More Bytes Will Mean Fewer—and Cleaner—Electrons)

Still, sort of expensive gasoline isn’t exactly the dystopia that peak-oil theorists predicted. So what does a world of fairly abundant oil mean for climate policy? Charles Mann explored just this question in a recent Atlantic cover story—and his answers are bracing:

For years, environmentalists have hoped that the imminent exhaustion of oil will, in effect, force us to undergo this virtuous transition; given a choice between no power and solar power, even the most shortsighted person would choose the latter. That hope seems likely to be denied. Cheap, abundant petroleum threw sand in the gears of solar power in the 1980s and stands ready to do it again. Plentiful natural gas, a geopolitical and economic boon, is a climatological shackle. To Vaclav Smil, the University of Manitoba environmental scientist, the notion that we can move so fast is naive, even preposterous. “Energy transitions are always slow,” he told me by e-mail. Modern energy infrastructures, assembled over decades, cannot be revamped overnight. Worse still, in his view, there is little public appetite for beginning the process, or even appreciating the magnitude of what lies ahead. “The world has been running into fossil fuels, not away from them.”

The energy efficiency guru Amory Lovins challenged Mann’s thesis in a post of his own after the story ran out, arguing that future oil supplies wouldn’t matter because increasingly cheap renewables and efficiency would crowd out oil all by themselves. Mann replied in his post. You can score it yourself, though I agree with Mann. Oil is so much better at what it does—containing easily portable energy—then any currently workable substitute that it’s difficult to see it the world voluntarily giving it up unless it becomes prohibitively expensive, or we see a real social shift that puts much greater value than we do now on preventing climate change. Looks like we’ll have to hope for—and work for—the latter.

MORE: Modifying the Endless Debate Over Genetically Modified Crops

62 comments
AlecSevins
AlecSevins

The title of this article is misleading. IEA projections out to 2018 are hardly the distant future. Claiming that Peak Oil has been delayed with no firm date can lead to dangerous complacency. I agree about the global warming angle, though. Sheeple will burn whatever is put in front of them and will probably keep buying marginally efficient vehicles and wasting fuel with excessive idling.


People need to understand that conventional oil is still the backbone of global supply, but it's like a river that's losing its flow rate. Unconventional oil (shale and tar sands) are like small creeks feeding that river, but without the main flow, global supply cannot be sustained. Society can't run on the volume from those "creeks" alone. Many geologists say we'll be lucky if shale carries much volume in 5 or 10 years, and tar sands have limited flow rates due to the intense processing needed.


Either way, the price will be forced upward if demand tries to rise against a supply ceiling, making it too expensive for business as usual. That's what happened in 2008 before the frenzied drilling of shale really got going. Those wells peak much faster than conventional crude and the landscape will be littered with increasing numbers of wells just to maintain current flows. Shale is desperation oil, not some magic resurrection. For example, the Bakken formation is very thin and may only yield about 7-8 billion barrels of recoverable oil, which could all be burnt in a year of U.S. consumption. A "billion barrels" impresses most laymen but it's really not much oil.


There is still a tendency to deny any real physical scarcity among generations spoiled by cheap energy. They see it as a birthright and will latch on to any weak analysis that claims oil will last indefinitely. As long as you don't give people a firm oil "expiration date," they'll pretend there is none.

KeytoClearskies
KeytoClearskies

Mark Goldes, starting in the mid-seventies, engaged for several years in the pretense that his company SunWind Ltd was developing a nearly production-ready, road-worthy, wind-powered "windmobile," based on the windmobile invented by James Amick; and that therefore SunWind would be a wonderful investment opportunity.

After SunWind "dried up" in 1983, Goldes embarked on the long-running pretense that his company Room Temperature Superconductors Inc was developing room-temperature superconductors; and that therefore Room Temperature Superconductors Inc would be a wonderful investment opportunity. He continues the pretense that the company developed something useful, even to this day.

And then Goldes embarked on the pretense that his company Magnetic Power Inc was developing "NO FUEL ENGINES" based on "Virtual Photon Flux;" and then, on the pretense that MPI was developing horn-powered "NO FUEL ENGINES" based on the resonance of magnetized tuning-rods; and then, on the pretense that his company Chava LLC (aka "Chava Energy") was developing water-fueled engines based on "collapsing hydrogen orbits" (which are ruled out by quantum physics); and then, on the pretense that he was developing strictly-ambient-heat-powered "NO FUEL ENGINES" (which are ruled out by the Second Law of Thermodynamics).

But of course, the laws of physics always make an exception for the make-believe pretenses of Mark Goldes.

Goldes' forty-year career of "revolutionary breakthrough" pretense has nothing to do with science, but only with pseudoscience, pseudophysics, and relentless flimflam, in pursuit of loans and donations from gullible people who never mastered physics very well.

http://physicsreviewboard.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/perpetual-flimflam-machine-mark-goldes-fraudulent-aesop-institute/

KeytoClearskies
KeytoClearskies

Let's look at another example of Mark Goldes' wonderful offerings in "revolutionary new technology:"

The amazing "POWERGENIE!"

One of the most laughable of Mark Goldes' many pseudotypes is his "POWERGENIE" horn-powered generator. The brilliant idea of this revolutionary breakthrough is to blow a horn at a magnetized tuning rod, designed to resonate at the frequency of the horn, and then collect the electromotive energy produced by the vibrations of the rod.

We're not making this up.

POWERGENIE tuning rod engine explained - from the patent:

[The device incorporates] "an energy transfer and multiplier element being constructed of a ferromagnetic substance... having a natural resonance, due to a physical structure whose dimensions are directly proportional to the wavelength of the resonance frequency...

"In this resonant condition, the rod material functions as a tuned waveguide, or longitudinal resonator, for acoustic energy...

"Ferrite rod 800 is driven to acoustic resonance at the second harmonic of its fundamental resonant frequency by acoustic horn 811..."

- But the patent doesn't tell us who will volunteer to blow the horn at the rod all day. Perhaps it will come with an elephant.

Mark Goldes claimed in 2008 that this wonderful triumph of human genius would bring his company, Magnetic Power Inc, one billion dollars in annual revenue by 2012. Magnetic Power is now defunct, having never produced any "Magnetic Power Modules" - just as Goldes' company called "Room Temperature Superconductors Inc" is also now defunct, having never produced any "room temperature superconductors."

KeytoClearskies
KeytoClearskies

In Mark Goldes' patent application for his ludicrous "POWERGENIE" horn-powered tuning-rod engine, he described the tuning-rod as "an energy transfer and multiplier element."

But of course, for the tuning-rod to "multiply" energy, it would need to disprove the law of conservation of energy.

Goldes' use of the term "energy multiplier element" reflected his pretense that the "revolutionary breakthrough" of the amazing "POWERGENIE" could disprove the law of conservation of energy, by presenting the world with a working "energy multiplier."

Goldes even claimed in 2008 that the POWERGENIE had been demonstrated already in an electric car, driven 4800 miles by his energy-multiplying horn-powered tuning-rod.

But it seems that most people, for some reason, had difficulty accepting the notion that the law of conservation of energy could be proven false.

And Goldes no doubt noticed that the Second Law of Thermodynamics - that "the entropy of an isolated system tends to increase with time and can never decrease" - is much less clear to most people than the conservation of energy.

So now, after leaving aside the pretense that he could somehow "multiply energy" with a magnetized tuning-rod, Goldes has chosen to focus, instead, on the pretense that he can disprove the Second Law with an engine powered only by ambient heat.

There is no "new science" in any of Goldes' "revolutionary breakthroughs." There is only pseudoscience and pretense - and nothing new, at all.

KeytoClearskies
KeytoClearskies

Mark Goldes' proofless claims regarding his make-believe strictly ambient heat engine do not represent any new technology, or even a new pretense - they merely represent a rather old pretense.

"Before the establishment of the Second Law, many people who were interested in inventing a perpetual motion machine had tried to circumvent the restrictions of First Law of Thermodynamics by extracting the massive internal energy of the environment as the power of the machine. Such a machine is called a "perpetual motion machine of the second kind". The second law declared the impossibility of such machines."

"A perpetual motion machine of the second kind is a machine which spontaneously converts thermal energy into mechanical work. When the thermal energy is equivalent to the work done, this does not violate the law of conservation of energy. However it does violate the more subtle second law of thermodynamics (see also entropy). The signature of a perpetual motion machine of the second kind is that there is only one heat reservoir involved... This conversion of heat into useful work, without any side effect, is impossible, according to the second law of thermodynamics."

Goldes' make-believe strictly ambient heat engine would be a perpetual motion machine of the second kind, as defined above. Goldes is not developing any such engine; he is merely developing a pretense - as usual.

http://physicsinspector.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/mark-goldes-and-his-fraudulent-aesop-institute/

KeytoClearskies
KeytoClearskies

The Kelvin-Planck formulation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics may be stated as follows:

"No cyclic process driven simply by heat can accomplish the absorption of the heat from a reservoir and the conversion of such heat into work - without any other result (such as a transfer of heat to a cooler reservoir)."

Now, as you will see, the Clausius formulation of the Second Law may be stated with fewer words:

"No process is possible whose sole result is the transfer of heat from a cooler to a hotter body."

In fact, we can show that the Kelvin-Planck formulation may be deduced from that of Clausius. In the words of Enrico Fermi:

"Suppose that Kelvin's postulate were not valid. Then we could perform a transformation whose only final result would be to transform completely into work a definite amount of heat taken from a single source at the temperature t1. By means of friction we could then transform this work into heat again and with this heat raise the temperature of a given body, regardless of what its initial temperature, t2, may have been. In particular, we could take t2 to be higher than t1. Thus, the only final result of this process would be the transfer of heat from one body (the source at temperature t1) to another body at a higher temperature, t2. This would be a violation of the Clausius postulate."

Can anyone make a teapot that boils water by absorbing heat from blocks of ice?

KeytoClearskies
KeytoClearskies

Max Planck, in his "Treatise On Thermodynamics," explains how the Second Law of Thermodynamics "may be deduced from a single simple law of experience about which there is no doubt." Here is the "single simple law of experience" he proposes:

"It is impossible to construct an engine which will work in a complete cycle, and produce no effect except the raising of a weight and the cooling of a heat-reservoir."

This "law of experience" is very similar to a principle suggested by William Thomson (Lord Kelvin):

"It is impossible, by means of inanimate material agency, to derive mechanical effect from any portion of matter by cooling it below the temperature of the coldest of the surrounding objects."

The "simple law of experience" offered by Planck is therefore commonly known as the "Kelvin-Planck statement" of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. But we see from Planck's "Treatise" that Planck himself did not quite regard it as a statement of the Second Law, but rather as a "starting point" or postulate from which the Second Law may be deduced.

Here is Planck's rendition of the Second Law itself:

"The second law of thermodynamics states that there exists in nature for each system of bodies a quantity, which by all changes of the system either remains constant (in reversible processes) or increases in value (in irreversible processes). This quantity is called, following Clausius, the entropy of the system."

KeytoClearskies
KeytoClearskies

The Second Law of Thermodynamics rules out strictly ambient heat engines.

Expecting an ambient heat engine to do any work, with only one heat reservoir, is exactly equivalent to expecting a teapot to boil water by absorbing heat from a block of ice.

Both processes are ruled out by the very same law - the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

"It is impossible for any device operating on a cycle to produce net work from a single temperature reservoir; the production of net work requires flow of heat from a higher temperature reservoir to a colder reservoir."

In a strictly ambient heat engine there are not two heat reservoirs at different temperatures; no reservoir would be available at any temperature other than the ambient temperature. Therefore the engine would have to DECREASE the total entropy - and therefore we know for certain that the engine will disappoint us. It will never be able to do any work.

Flow of heat from a block of ice to lukewarm water would also result in a DECREASE of the total entropy.

Once again: Expecting an ambient heat engine to do any work, with only one heat reservoir, is exactly equivalent to expecting a teapot to boil water by absorbing heat from a block of ice. Anyone who claims to be developing a "prototype" of such an engine is only developing a pretense, and nothing more.

KeytoClearskies
KeytoClearskies

Mark Goldes' latest adventure in flimflam is to declare that a "FUEL-FREE TURBINE invented by a Russian scientist runs on atmospheric pressure."

But when we read the patent application, we find that actually the turbine does NOT run on atmospheric pressure - it requires compressed air. This is clearly indicated even in the article by Kondrashov posted by Goldes on his flimflam website. Kondrashov says:

"To create a sample of such an engine, you can use ready-made devices, such as a load-bearing element - a low-power turbine module turboshaft turbine engine, and to compress the air... any type of compressor..."

Kondrashov filed his patent application in 2003. No patent was awarded.

Mark Goldes assures us in his note prefacing Kondrashov's article that "We understand the science behind this jet engine." But since he incorrectly describes it as an engine powered by "atmospheric pressure" - which it certainly is not - in fact he shows that he doesn't even understand that the engine requires a supply of compressed air in order to spin at all.

Although Kondrashov does pretend in some of his statements that the turbine will be powered by "atmospheric pressure," in fact it is evident from his application that the proposed turbine is made to spin only by the use of compressed air.

In his patent application, Kondrashov states:

"To set the above engine in operation, it is necessary to create pressure of working medium (e.g. air) in pneumatic accumulator 18. The compressed air is fed through check valve 19 and/or 20."

Thus, Kondrashov indicates that an external compressor must be used to fill the turbine's compressed air tank before the turbine can be started. But he tries to pretend that once the turbine starts to spin, there will be no further reliance on the external compressor - the spinning turbine itself will compress the air that is making the turbine spin. So despite his own false description of the turbine as making use of "low-grade atmospheric energy," what Kondrashov actually presents in his patent application is a perpetual motion machine in the form of a self-powered air compressor. This is probably the reason why no patent was awarded. It is exactly analogous to trying to use a generator to power a motor to spin the generator to power the motor to spin the generator. It doesn't work.

http://intlphysicsreviewboard.wordpress.com/2014/02/07/mark-goldes-fraudulent-aesop-institute/

ralfy
ralfy

It's hard to argue that peak oil is dead as oil production per capita peaked back in 1979.


AlecSevins
AlecSevins

This article is poorly titled and lacks major context. Unconventional sources like tar sands and shale are merely desperation oil, long ago predicted as the downward slope of the overall peak bell curve. These sources bring a combination of higher prices and declining flow rates. Kerogen shale is a joke in terms of EROEI, but many people bank on it as America's biggest future shale bonanza. They ignore that it's entirely different from wet shale like Bakken, which can be fracked. Bakken (ND) is just a boomlet on the historical U.S. peak oil curve, producing about 800,000 bpd at the moment (about 5% of U.S. consumption).

Most importantly, these unconventional sources are still operating *in conjunction with* remaining conventional sources (like OPEC) that are prone to peaking very soon, if not already. The notion that unconventional oil ALONE can sustain the economy has never been tested. I think the point when that starts to happen will be the official "peak oil" that people worry about. Without the bolstering effect of regular crude oil, marginal sources will greatly increase the overall price of oil, and global flow rates will wither. That price of oil means everything to the economy as we know it!

Articles like this are denying the inevitable by pretending that desperation oil is somehow a match for the easy oil we took for granted for so long. It's like saying a town which drew water from a mighty river for a century will suffer no ill effects when its only water source becomes a shrinking underground aquifer.

JosephLawrence
JosephLawrence

For the life of me, I do not understand how increasing our dependence on the climate for our energy (biomass, wind, solar etc.) somehow reduces the threat of a changing climate??? Even if we completely nullify our GHG emissions, the climate WILL CHANGE and there is nothing we can do to stop this from happening. We need to further break our dependence on climate for our energy & agriculture if we are to avoid climate change threats.....just saying.

MichaelJones
MichaelJones

So, we are now back to the point we are not only adding more CO2 to the atmosphere than ever before, 3ppm per year. I find it funny that folks are pleased that the Stock Market rally is still full stream ahead and is at a record high. We are paying a tremendous price for it and the ones that will suffer are not able to have a voice. Foolish we are to think we can ignore physics and chemistry. Those profits are all an illusion and just in our minds.

One_more_thing
One_more_thing

What?? Peak Oil's demise? How wrong can this article be.

There is much confusion as what Peak Oil means and the writer perpetuates that misconception by declaring Peak Oil dead when if fact the IEA reports says no such thing. The writer is right in that Production growth has not peaked as we have added new oil sources from Shale Oil, etc. However, he doesn't talk about Demand growth. It is when demand outstrips production and the resulting consequences of high oil prices that is the concern behind Peak Oil, not the supply of oil. 

The IEA in fact makes no remark about Peak Oil in its report, whatsoever, that the assumption that the writer made. The IEA report actually shows "Peak Oil" happening in 2015. In the IEA report, it has a chart of the Medium-Term Oil Market Balance, which has a blue bar chart of the Balance between supply growth and demand growth. The dark blue bars show a Peak in 2015 when that Balance reaches it high point and then it starts gradually falling through to 2018. The orange line (which is world demand growth) crosses over the green line (which is world supply growth) at the end of 2015. When demand exceeds supply, economics 101 tells you that prices will rise until demand falls to the level of supply. Unfortunately that supply gap keeps growing as projected into 2018 so oil prices will keep rising. The world is headed for Peak Oil and all its negative consequences in 2015...there is no demise of Peak Oil. 

Sorry Bryan,  Peak Oil is alive and well and it is coming in 2015. The world will not end in 2015 but we're going to be in for some rough times. Better get your world travels in now while airfare is still affordable.



abandyyang
abandyyang

if you look at it on the scale of 2000 years, the age of oil is just a blip. if on a scale of 5000 years of human history, it's barely visible.

BorisIII
BorisIII

The whole world is also becoming developed countries.  Latin America, Asia and eventually Africa.  But technology will always keep getting better.

hughkelly1776
hughkelly1776

Peak oil is real and we have been feeling its effects since around 2007, just a year or two after the peak of global crude production, which was 2005 or 2006.  Since then, conventional crude production has been bumping along the plateau of the peak of Hubbert's curve, and the developed world's largest economic slowdown since the Great Depression has coincided with this plateau.

Here are the four reasons that peak oil is real and significant:

1. Price - Anyone who says that peak oil is dead because of non-conventional oil exploitation needs to explain the price.   From 1946-1971 the average REAL price in 2010 dollars was $23/barrel.  From 1971-2005 it was $42/barrel.  Notice the change in oil prices that perfectly coincides with the U.S. peak, which Hubbert also predicted in 1956, was also the year that Nixon took the U.S. off the remnants of the gold standard by exiting the Bretton Woods monetary system and ending US dollar redeemability for gold.  This was also the birth of the petro-dollar: Nixon asked first Saudi Arabia and then the rest of OPEC to only trade oil in U.S. dollars.  

From 2006-2012 the average price has been $75/barrel.   Peak oil is already here.  The first stages of peak oil (technically, of leveling off at the top of the curve) don't look like Mad Max.  It looks like economic stagnation and high energy prices.


2.  Falling EROI - Energy Return on (energy) Invested  - in Saudi's Ghawar, the world's largest oilfield, we put one barrel of energy in for every 100 barrels we get out.  For offshore deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico we put 1 barrel in for every 20 we get out.  For the Canadian Tar Sands we put 1 barrel in for every 5 we get out.  The Bakken oil shales are about 6:1, meaning 1 barrel in for every 6 we get out.  So, non-con oil is a reality, yes, and we are exploiting it, yes.  But M. King Hubbert and other petroleum geologists knew about non-con oil in the 50's.  It just wasn't worth extracting.  The only reason it's worth extracting now is b/c conventional oil has become scarce and expensive (i.e. peak oil.)  But non-con oil takes way more energy to extract and refine, leaving less surplus energy for us to run our economy.  To paraphrase Chris Martenson, we now spend more energy to get energy, and this leaves less energy for us to use to do everything else.


3.  Peak oil is about flow rates and not reserves.  There are massive reserves of non-con oil, but flow rates are very slow because, well, the stuff doesn't really flow.  The most important number in oil prodution is barrels per day, how much energy can we pipe into our economy each day.  Now the world pumps about 70-odd million barrels per day of conventional petroleum and another 15 mbd of non-con syncrude, natural gas liquids, and other products that share some (but not all) similarities with conventional petroleum.


4.  Our modern globalized capitalism depends on rapid economic growth.  But growth in energy and economic growth are closely linked.  Even a fall in the RATE of energy growth is already a problem for our fractional-reserve banking system because already existing loans will not be paid off.  Loans are made based on a set of assumptions about future economic growth.  But, our assumptions are based on the rapid growth of energy supplies from the 1950’s to the 2000’s (with the exception of the 70’s).  

So, the fact that fast and easy conventional oil supplies are diminishing matters a lot for the rate and growth of energy supplies, and this in turn means that people will be less likely to pay off debts.  Notice that dollar debasement was most acute in the 70’s – when the U.S. hit its domestic oil peak – and since 2008, just a few years after the world hit the global peak.  That’s because, in the words of former IEA analyst Olivier Rech, “Many OECD nations are printing money to buy the oil that they cannot afford.”


In conclusion, the peak of conventional petroleum happened in 2005/2006 and since then we have seen very high oil prices and the largest global economic slowdown since the Great Depression, especially for the OECD-rich countries that benefited most from rapidly expanding oil production during the second half of the 20th century.  We are already in a post-peak oil world, and exploiting non-conventional hydrocarbon reserves does not change that.  The fact that we are scraping at the shales of North Dakota and the bitumen sands of Alberta just show that we are in the first stages of difficulty, since 35% of the energy that powers our global industrial civilization comes from oil and at least 80% comes from non-renewable fossil fuels of all types (it's roughly 30% of global energy use from oil, 25% from coal, and 25% from natural gas).


aliberaldoseofskepticism
aliberaldoseofskepticism

Um, there's still only a finite amount of oil. So don't go saying "peak oil is dead". It's just been pushed back. (And it really just means oil will get really expensive.) Nothing can stop Judgment Day...I mean peak oil. Well, at least I got to work on my Austrian accent.

aussie2010
aussie2010

Very misleading headline. "Peak Oil is Dead" is not the same as "not expected to peak anytime soon" as the article says. And "anytime soon" is only a few decades.  As a 20 year old if they wouldn't mind spending the second half of their life with an ever declining oil supply.

RandWro
RandWro

While I appreciate the truth and insight of much of Mr. Walsh's article, this line: 

"But it’s increasingly likely that we will have more than enough oil in the future to keep the global economy growing and stave off any Mel Gibson-esque apocalypses." 

... does strike me, ironically, as about as backasswards as it gets.  He assumes that LACK of oil will cause a societal and ecological meltdown (all the Gibson Road Warrior movies I saw were in virtual deserts).  All scientific evidence is that the USE of the oil we have already found (and that oil companies business plans are based on burning) WILL be the cause of climatic, thus ecological/agricultural, thus societal/economic catastrophy. 

There is, even now, no technological barrier to radically transforming our energy economy to cleanTech - wind delivered a large fraction of new power last year. Its a political will issue. And there is a constant stream of cleanTech innovations that make the transition even easier: like the liquid metal utility-scale grid battery, and hydrogen from non-food biomass: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-04/vt-bih040313.php#  . 

Portable energy sources are only needed for transportation, and between electricity and hydrogen, already, even that sector can be made carbon-free, not to mention future tech.  Oil is only "...so much better at what it does..." because it is artificially cheap because of government subsidies, efficiencies of massive scale (which can be achieved by cleanTech with an all-in approach), and because it can pollute freely, externalizing that epochal cost.  Our political will is being sabotaged by hundred's of millions of dollars in oil-funded misinformation denial groups and entrenched lobbying, at the cost of our future.

So yes, Mr. Walsh, we have to hope and work for a "real social shift that puts much greater value than we do now on preventing climate change".  While your analysis aggregates the facts, trends and likelihoods, please be upfront that using the oil already found (not to mention new sources) will be the cause of the Gibson-esque apocalypse, not any higher cost to a freely polluting/planet-destroying, therefore,  obsolete technology.

ianbrettcooper
ianbrettcooper

LOL. So, if peak oil is dead, should we maybe take another look at other mathematical certainties: does 1 + 1 really equal 2? Is the hypoteneuse of a right-angled triangle really the sum of the squares of the other two sides? For that matter, is the sky blue? Do we really breathe air? Is gravity a natural force?

And if this science stuff is so hit or miss, should we maybe chuck it all in and go back to cavorting druids and human sacrifice?

I vote no. Let's not be so sure that peak oil is dead. When we assume things are dead, that's often about the time they bite you in the butt.

Hank.Missenheim_Jr
Hank.Missenheim_Jr

Doesn't change the fact that petroleum is a finite resource. The effects of post peak oil have been just been delayed, for now.

RoccoJohnson
RoccoJohnson

I'm all for green energy, and would love to go off the grid as much as possible, unfortunately solar cells generally take years to recoup their investment in the area in which I live, which makes it really hard to justify on a budget. 

RoccoJohnson
RoccoJohnson

I drive a fourteen-year old Dodge Dakota pickup that already was getting absolutely crappy gas mileage, but when the government fully ramped up its requirements for ethanol in gasoline my gas mileage dropped by forty-percent. I figured it out one day and I actually burn MORE oil than I did before ethanol. How smart is that?

Environmentalists say we should all just drive environmentally friendly vehicles, but when one of them takes a look at my checkbook and tells me just how I'm going to shoehorn that into my very tight budget I'll be happy to make the switch.

j.villain1
j.villain1

The biggest problem with this article is it refusing to admit that the scare mongering psudo-science of the environmentalists has been proven wrong and the worlds temperature hasn't risen in 20 years.

BertMcDirt
BertMcDirt

I'm excited to see the smackdown this author received from multiple informed and rational commentators.  Energy costs will continue to rise, 'green' tech will never be as cheap as petro was, and the economy will reflect these changes.

Mr.Wallingford
Mr.Wallingford

Meanwhile the Tesla S is outselling BMWs, Audis and other high-end cars of its class/price range and they're planning to introduce a $35K electric car in the next two years...

AlecSevins
AlecSevins

@One_more_thing Yes, most of these "peak oil is dead" articles refuse to acknowledge that peak oil is about affordable oil in adequate quantities, not oil somehow reduced to a trickle. As conventional oil keeps declining, its cheapening effect on the conglomerate price of all oil sources will be lost, and we'll see the true cost of trying to run the world on tight oil sources. That has yet to be fully tested, but it could come as a shock.

Human history is full of fake optimism, followed by reality checks. The same people who keep claiming that oil prices didn't cause this recession are the ones now claiming that economic growthism in a finite world can continue unabated. At least this author admits that we'll never see cheap gas again, but he fails to understand that we're already into the desperation oil, not some easy ride where oil will just sit at a  higher but steady price indefinitely. This is a developing situation, just like climate change.

AlecSevins
AlecSevins

@BorisIII But raw energy from the earth is not the same thing as technology. Peak Oil remains an inevitable geological fact (it happened in America 43 years ago). All we're doing now is finding ways to increase yields of marginal oil sources that we didn't need to bother with before. It's not some exponential leap in flow rates, and it comes at a much higher cost.

A peak oil graph can simply be seen as time vs. declining flow rates and higher costs per barrel extracted. You can flip the curve upside down and use price as the Y-axis, which directly affects how much oil people can afford to burn. Once that costs gets too high, the peak is effectively an economic one, even if plenty of oil remains in the ground, untapped. We are already seeing big warnings of that, but the root cause of peak oil is being ignored by financial monkeys.

ianbrettcooper
ianbrettcooper

@RoccoJohnson So after 15 years, your pickup still gets crappy gas mileage, but now you pay through the nose to fill up the tank. that's real smart.

Tapasap
Tapasap

@j.villain1 
You spew utter lies, but that won't stop morons from repeating them. 

way to demonstrate your ignorance -- don't like reality? then it must not be happening!!

Naive little child... 

j.villain1
j.villain1

@Mr.Wallingford  

And Tesla gets a subsidy of $42,000 for every car sold. You could give the BMWs away for free for that kind of money.

summit1986
summit1986

@Mr.Wallingford Electric cars still remain impractical to a majority of Americans.  I live in an apartment, so I have nowhere I can recharge at night.  I go on 300+ mile road trips to visit family every few months. Until battery capacity or recharge stations can alleviate this issue, this will remain a huge factor for many.  There's also the matter of service.  Most garages will not have qualified mechanics to deal with anything electrically related for a considerable time.  Personally, the Tesla S is the only electric car I'd consider.  I'm a tremendous auto enthusiast and have a thirst for power (something all but the most expensive electric cars lack).  I'm confident the technology will evolve, but it's going to take 10+ years for this to happen. 

RoccoJohnson
RoccoJohnson

@ianbrettcooper @RoccoJohnson 

Not sure what your point is? Yes I do pay through the nose for gas, but being that I'm on Social Security I don't really have much choice in the matter, now do I, hmm?

RoccoJohnson
RoccoJohnson

@hailfromsf @j.villain1 

Better read carefully because NASA admits on their site that they cannot definitely say that any or all rise in temperatures is due to human causation. I salute their honesty, in light of the political climate (no pun intended,) surrounding environmental science. They certainly do not deny human influence, but they don't blame rising temperatures on it exclusively, either.

aarond12
aarond12

@j.villain1 Tesla is NOT receiving any subsidies, especially not $42K worth. What they are receiving is "carbon credits" for creating a zero emissions vehicle. Those credits do not have any inherent value. It's the OTHER car companies that buy the credits from Tesla (because they're not making fuel efficient vehicles) and cause the credits to have value. The money received by Tesla for those credits is NOT from the government, not a subsidy; it's direct payments from other car companies buying credits. 

By the way, Tesla is going to announce tomorrow that they're paying back their DoE loan 9 YEARS EARLY. Now is the time to shut up and do some research about what you're talking about. Shame on you and the person who liked your comment.

MarkGoldes
MarkGoldes

@summit1986 @Mr.Wallingford Electric cars will become power plants when suitably parked, selling substantial electricity to utilities and paying for themselves.

See www.aesopinstitute.org for a few technical Black Swans - highly improbable innovations with huge implications. One or more will prove practical in the near future.

RoccoJohnson
RoccoJohnson

@bryanfred1 @DeweySayenoff @RoccoJohnson @Tapasap @hailfromsf @j.villain1 

I agree, although in fairness it must be stated that the Kyoto protocols ended up watered down in their final form. I would also agree that a top down approach from governments will not work as well as the markets. The green movement will only work effectively when people stand to make money from it. The ridiculousness of the current levels of the ethanol content required in gasoline is a perfect example of when politicians and governments get involved in processes that should be governed by actual science.

It is an acceptable role for government to exert pressure on industry to meet certain standards, but pressure in the market is far more effective, it is my belief. When hybrids and battery-powered vehicles reach the critical mass necessary that they become competitively priced against gasoline vehicles, only then will they be adopted in greater numbers. 

bryanfred1
bryanfred1

@DeweySayenoff@RoccoJohnson@Tapasap@hailfromsf@j.villain1 

The issue I have isn't whether the globe is warming, or if so whether it is because of human activity, and if so whether it's CO2 emissions that are driving it. Let's say I'm willing to concede all of that. My issue is that even had we ratified and followed the Kyoto protocol, by its own projections the effect on temperature would have been a reduction of 0.1 degrees 50 years from now. And following the protocol would have come at HUGE costs to the U.S. (while China and India skate because they are "developing" countries). So we would have been moving economic mountains and putting ourselves at a massive trade disadvantage for an outcome that wouldn't be materially different than if we did nothing.

The answer to @DeweySayenoff's last question is that there is nothing to sell without demand, and for now transportation and electricity generated with fossil fuels is far less expensive than 'green' alternatives. Until that's no longer the case, we will not be in a position to fundamentally reorder our economy or get international buyers to purchase squat. Any top-down effort would have to be truly global, and good luck getting a China rapidly increasing in global influence thanks to its economic growth or a Russia that makes all of its money from oil and gas sales to agree to that for a second.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@RoccoJohnson @Tapasap @hailfromsf @j.villain1  The POINT, folks is that, regardless of cause, climate change IS happening. Another indisputable fact is that CO2 is one of the major causes.

I don't think anyone can deny the notion that throwing gasoline on a fire isn't going to help stop the fire.  Regarding climate change, it's not a matter of "is it happening?", it's a matter of "how bad is it going to get?".

Quibbling about how a fire started is pointless when the point is dealing with it, containing it and trying to mitigate its effects.  One of those mitigation efforts is to reduce the fuel upon which the fire feeds.

That means stop throwing gasoline on it.

The only question I have to the anti-Green people is, "Why do you oppose creating a new industry which will create new jobs and tech we can sell to the rest of the world that actually help the planet instead of hurting it?"

That's a question which has yet to receive an intelligent, rational response.

RoccoJohnson
RoccoJohnson

@Tapasap @RoccoJohnson @hailfromsf @j.villain1 

I didn't espouse any opinion whatsoever about what my view is of warming may or may not be. 

However, do your research instead of investing in rhetoric and parroting the opinions of only those you agree with. Reporters are largely lazy, essentially quoting and re-quoting the reporting of others, rather than vetting their stories in the context of other respected studies. I'm suspicious when I read articles that frequently quote other articles, rather than original sources. Sorry, but I trust NASA, they actually do real climate research.

Your classification of "weakness" is invalid, in that what you're pointing out as weakness is that which you don't agree with.

Finally, do some actual study on the effects the volcanoes Krakatoa and Pinatubo had on the climate change during their times of eruption before you make anecdotal statements regarding "all volcanoes."


Tapasap
Tapasap

@RoccoJohnson @hailfromsf @j.villain1 
Get your denier argument straight -- is the world getting hotter? 

Have we known for 150 years that CO2 functions as a thermal blanket in our atmosphere?

Do humans emit more CO2 in 1 day than all the volcanoes in the world, over an entire year?

ANSWERS ARE ALL YES. 

But people invested in NO, are spewing misinformation that appeals to the weak-minded. 

Don't be weak-minded, embrace a POV that reflects reality instead of pseudo-scientific talking points.  

aarond12
aarond12

@summit1986 That's obviously NOT what he was saying. Electric cars, when parked, can allow the grid to take energy from the electric vehicles. This helps prevent power brownouts and rolling blackouts. The Mitsubishi i-MiEV has this technology today; other EVs will have it soon. This will help smooth out power fluctuations in the grid.

MarkGoldes
MarkGoldes

@summit1986 @MarkGoldes @Mr.Wallingford  Energy conversion from energy sources we have not previously recognized includes atmospheric heat, Zero Point Energy (nobel physicist Feynman said if you could liberate the ZPE in an apparently empty coffee cup you could boil the oceans), powdered Nickel (Low Energy Nuclear Reactions) etc. They may create a perpetual commotion. See www.aesopinstitute.org

summit1986
summit1986

@MarkGoldes @summit1986 @Mr.Wallingford Maybe I read that wrong, but it sounds like you and insinuating electric cars will be some form of power generator.  That would essentially make them perpetual motion machines, which is impossible.