oil and gas running out
October 3, 2003 5:55 PM   Subscribe

Global warming will never bring a "doomsday scenario" a team of Swedish scientists say -- because oil and gas are running out much faster than thought. Oil production levels will hit their maximum soon after 2010. "The decline of oil and gas will affect the world population more than climate change."
posted by stbalbach (41 comments total)

The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

Wait, I know! Quick, turn off your computers; you'll save energy!
posted by keswick at 6:48 PM on October 3, 2003

stbalbach - my commendations! You've wrapped up together the Hubbert Curve and nonlinearities in Global Climate Change.

I hope you're right: humans might still evolve.
posted by troutfishing at 6:54 PM on October 3, 2003

More here, including this little tale by Professor Aleklett himself:

A Colorful Analogy

We have all been enjoying the greatest party the World has ever seen: the great oil party. Few of us have realized that it was a party, still less that it is now reaching its climax as the champagne corks pop on all sides. After the climax comes the decline when we have to sober up and face the fact that the party is coming to an end

To give a sense of proportion, we can indeed compare the oil party with a champagne party and think in terms of how much is drunk. Let us imagine that one champagne bottle is equivalent to 100 thousand million barrels of oil: by all means a magnum. Let us also imagine that it is a vintage champagne that cannot be replaced. The bartender was not quite sure how many bottles were in the case, but his experience told him that there were probably about eighteen, and he knew that there were probably another two hidden away in the refrigerator. We have now drunk about nine of them, meaning that by closing time, we will have consumed a total of twenty.

As in all parties, some people drink more than others. There are some heavy drinkers dressed for the party in cowboy kit, who stand a little apart. The other guests are amazed at their capacity to consume the precious liquid and begin to fear that that they may be taking more than their fair share.

The remaining bottles have different labels. Five came from vineyards in the Middle East (one with the Iraq label); one from the former Soviet Union; one from Africa; one from Europe and Asia combined; but the bottle with US label is now only a quarter full, having been preferred by the hard drinkers. Of the two remaining bottles in the refrigerator, one has a Middle East label, while the other contains the dregs from all the other vineyards put together.

At its climax, the party consumes a quarter of a bottle a year, but as it begins to close more and more of the guests begin to realize that they will have to sober up and return to a daily life, tilling the land in some sustainable fashion to feed their families .

posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:55 PM on October 3, 2003

I beeped my horn at an Escalade on my way home from work tonight...
posted by starscream at 7:00 PM on October 3, 2003

Aleklett may be a great researcher (or not) but he sure as hell isn't much of a storyteller.
posted by aramaic at 7:12 PM on October 3, 2003

I beeped my horn at an Escalade on my way home from work tonight..

noise pollution.
posted by quonsar at 7:24 PM on October 3, 2003

we're in for some fun years as everything changes...public transportation anyone? water power? solar? wind? At least it means an end of our foreign policy being dictated by oil reserve locations.

There are some heavy drinkers dressed for the party in cowboy kit, who stand a little apart. hmmm...ya think?
posted by amberglow at 7:26 PM on October 3, 2003

A lot of this seems to me to be straight line statistics, using axioms like "Well, if Guyana consumes oil in the future like the US does now...".

First of all, the US, Europe, Russia and China have all had dedicated energy development and control policies for decades. They have production, development, transportation, and other infrastructure that the third and fourth world will never have. In other words, if you, as a nation, have no hand in the oil business as other than as a consumer, how do you pay for your increasingly expensive oil *and* development that uses more oil?

Second, it ignores the development of fuel cell technology, which may result in less consumption in the developed world then there is today--throwing the developed world back below the production curve.

Third, regular market forces have a rigidly predictable effect on energy costs and production. Beyond a certain raise in price per barrel, suddenly marginal production areas become profitable, radically raising the production curve. So how can they extrapolate? Assume complete production of all resources?

Last but not least, I am reminded of Paul Ehrlich, author of "The Population Bomb". A scaremonger renowned for his ability to get every single prediction he ever made, wrong.
posted by kablam at 7:29 PM on October 3, 2003

Good thing we've already implemented the Kissinger plan.
posted by homunculus at 7:39 PM on October 3, 2003

Big Deal! After a couple of 'painfull' years, we'll finally figure out a way to make cheap Solar power.
posted by WLW at 7:46 PM on October 3, 2003

kablam - As far as I know, it is theory that's quite well substantiated by recent experience - since Hubberts' first predictions were exactly born out in 1971 as US oil producton began to decline, never again to increase despite improvements in oil mining technology.

But was Erhlich wrong? - Und So Weiter.
posted by troutfishing at 7:46 PM on October 3, 2003

And you all laughed when I bought a Segway. Well, you'll all be laughing again as I whiz by your walking buttocks. Hahahahahahaha!

(Now to stock up on batteries)
posted by Joey Michaels at 7:50 PM on October 3, 2003

According to Thomas Gold, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy at Cornell University, "Or not."
posted by Unxmaal at 7:54 PM on October 3, 2003

troutfishing - but that's yet another angle. Isolating oil is also a little deceptive. For example, nuclear power, despite its ogre nature, results in a massive drop in oil demand. Right now, the administration is trying to streamline new nuke plant construction (no matter what people think of it.) And the US has boucoup enriched uranium sitting around.
Oil is only popular because it is good, enginewise, and cheap. Raise its price, cut production, or expand beyond production and it still results in the same thing--other sources. Sources for a LOT of energy, and cheap.

The biggest selling points to what most people consider "alternative" energy happens when the curve is slightly pushed. Some environmentalists are even selling the idea to energy corporations--but at best only fractional to their needs. An important area, really, "marginal" energy, when the grid needs 105%. So there is really value here, too.

The only factor not permitted in the equation is the reduction in energy demand, and what that implies. Perhaps reduction in the *rate* of increase, but absolutely not any reduction from current levels. So oil will do its part, as far as it can, as will nuke, etc. And yes, alternative energy, too.

But change one element, say oil, and the rest of the system adjusts.
posted by kablam at 8:48 PM on October 3, 2003

fuel cell technology

Just out of curiosity, I looked up some numbers. At a rough estimate, converting all our petrol-driven stuff to run on fuel cells would mean doubling the power generating capacity in the US. That's actually quite a bit less than I expected. Still, it'll take a few decades.

(20khw per household per day in driving around, plus cost of conversion to/from hydrogen, probably at least equals the 27khw currently used. Ignored the non-household consumers, guessing that the ratios of usage might be about the same. Anyone have a better estimate?)
posted by sfenders at 8:59 PM on October 3, 2003

but look at the rest of the system. Look at the power grid that we will need to lean on when the cheap oil dries up. It is junk. Complete junk.

Also, you say the system will adjust. This is true. But it doesn't always adjust in a way that is to your benifit. The Soviets thought that communism was immune to deficits, and they folded less than 20 years after they first dipped into the red. Acting like capitalism is immune to the end of oil is a folly of similar magnitude.

The invisible hand of the market may be all-powerful, but don't think it won't bitch-slap you if you aren't careful.
posted by Ptrin at 9:27 PM on October 3, 2003

Off topic.. this is my Centenary (100th) FPP.. champagne for everyone *pop*
posted by stbalbach at 10:14 PM on October 3, 2003

congrats stbalbach! your 100th is a good one

kablam, if the system adjusts when one form of energy is less available, and uses other forms to fill the demand, what will work in transportation do you think? Trucking is the main way goods get to us domestically i believe, and our national housing stock is and was mostly built assuming cars would always be around. Office parks are everywhere, also dependent on private vehicles and with with little to no public transportation to serve the workers.
posted by amberglow at 10:27 PM on October 3, 2003

Big Deal! After a couple of 'painfull' years, we'll finally figure out a way to make cheap Solar power.

Done. I read a news item today claiming a breakthrough in solar cell technology that'll be dropping production cost by an order of magnitude.

Next will be to improve efficiency an order of magnitude, and we'll be laughing.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:09 PM on October 3, 2003

Big Deal! After a couple of 'painfull' years, we'll finally figure out a way to make cheap Solar power.

You might not be too wrong.
Franco-Italian chipmaker STMicroelectronics said it has discovered new ways to produce solar cells that will generate electricity twenty times cheaper than today's solar panels. By the end of next year, the company expects to have made the first stable prototypes of the new cells, which could then be put into production.
posted by ericrolph at 12:23 AM on October 4, 2003

Global warming again, huh?

If we're to believe everybody, we're damned if we do, and damned if we don't.

My suggestion?

We need to quit coming up with bogus arguments to explain natural phenomena.

Oh, and the oil and gas things? How 70's retro.
posted by shepd at 1:04 AM on October 4, 2003

We need to quit coming up with bogus arguments to explain natural phenomena.

it seems like common sense to me. do you honestly think we can put as much garbage into the atmosphere as we do with no consequences?
posted by mcsweetie at 4:26 AM on October 4, 2003

My two cents,
Fossil fuels were a lucky find. A little boost for humanity, a little energy just sitting for the taking, to help us develop a bit without having to worry about actually producing energy, instead we only had to drill out stored energy from millions of years ago. When it's all gone, it will be a big shock and suddenly to generate enough energy to run a car (be it by cooking oil or with fuel cells) will not be enough to warrant every second family driving a SUV just to pick up milk from the dairy a couple of minutes walk away. The free ride is over and hey guess we'll actually have to generate our own energy.

I quite like the "party" analogy. Fits perfectly. The party will be over and we'll actually have to go out and make products instead of just drinking what we found lying around.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 5:08 AM on October 4, 2003

In a closed, complex system, there are always consequences. However, it is overly simplistic to say that human-generated pollution is the single direct cause for any environmental phenomenon. Not only is it simplistic, it is vain: humans aren't that important to the planet. We can change things, but our actions are minor compared to other natural phenomena.

For example, if the Yellowstone mega-volcano were to erupt --and it is overdue -- it would make our current, supposedly human-caused, environmental changes look like a mild nose itch [as compared to a fatal head-wound]. Normal-sized volcanos spew gargantuan amounts of carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, ash, and bits of molten rock into the atmosphere. This happens daily, and the amount of these substances is many orders of magnitude greater than the amount released by human technology.

Finally, bear in mind that environmental changes affect life as we know it. Life will go on. Life probably won't look the same as it did yesterday, or the day before, but it will exist in some form or another. At the very worst case , which, for me, are impacts from planet-killer asteroids or orbit changes caused by rogue planets, life will still survive as bacterial lifeforms, which will live in some form near naturally-occurring radioactive deposits deep in the free-floating fragments of the shattered wreckage of the planet.

Human life, however, may be very short-lived.
posted by Unxmaal at 5:32 AM on October 4, 2003

Fossil fuels have been much more than "a little boost". They have driven the economic activity of the planet for more than a century. Without petroleum, transportation would easily be twice as expensive (probably an order of magnitude more), air travel would have been retarded by decades. Power plants would be exclusively coal, with nuclear also being common, especially in NA where we have tonnes of U235 lying in the ground. In a land without oil, the world population would be much lower, because the Green Revolution could not have happened: little farm mechanization and no cheap fertilizers/pesticides. The allies would have been hard-pressed to beat the Germans in WWII (though Nippon would never have been a threat). The oil economy shaped the whole twentieth century. Without it, science and technology would be far less advanced and there would be far less people, and more of them would still be on the farm.

By the way, fuel cells are not an energy source, no more than electricity is. Fuel cell technology, especially that based on hydrogen, is a way of transporting energy and using it more efficiently, especially in cars, then we currently do, but it should not, generally, be thought of as a primary energy source. We'll need wind/solar/coal/oil/nuclear for that.
posted by bonehead at 5:50 AM on October 4, 2003

To extend what bonehead just said, what will people in the Middle East do if/when their oil dries up, their resources consumed by the west, and the the money for those resources embezzled by their princes and shahs and turned away from the land and peoples there? They've got nothing but sand, some historical artifacts, and Islam. Mecca and Medina notwithstanding, I don't think the tourism industry will support them. Will it ever be politically and economically feasible to build chip-fab plants there? I can't think of a place for them in the colorful analogy, but I worry about them more than anyone else in any post-oil scenario we may face.
posted by wobh at 7:50 AM on October 4, 2003

Maybe it's time to invade Titan.
posted by QuestionableSwami at 9:01 AM on October 4, 2003

amberglow: we're not talking about running *out* of oil, for the nonce, just transcending the curve of production. This is the "marginal" area of production and consumption, which is a very important concept from several angles.

First of all, let's say that *desired* consumption goes to 105% of production. This means that for *some* consumers, there will be no fuel for *some* of what they do, most likely because the price of fuel has gone up, not because of an obvious shortage. In other words, if the trip is voluntary or a luxury, by putting off a trip or consolidating trips, you save fuel (and money.) If it gets *too* expensive, alternative energy wonderfully (technically speaking) fills this "marginal" need.

In other words, if the price of gas goes beyond "$X.XX", people at first try to "save gas", then some people start buying hybrid and electric cars, because they have become cost effective.

There *will* be lots of people who *must* have their fuel, at any price, and most likely they will get all they want, because a lot of fuel consumption in the developed world is voluntary or luxury. There is lots of 'fat' that could be cut for important transportation.

But the important thing is that marginal 5% of desired overconsumption that can be attacked from a bunch of different directions.

Second, again dealing with "marginal", is marginal production. If consumption demand goes up to 105% of production, the price of oil goes beyond "$X.XX", and lots of oil production that would not have been profitable becomes so. And each new oil well puts downward pressure on that marginal 5% demand by raising the production curve.

Previously, I mentioned nuclear energy, and this is one aspect of confronting marginal overconsumption that can be a problem. Ironically, not because of the inherent problems associated with "nuclear", but because of the time lag in building a new power plant. And this is one area (new energy, not necessarily nuclear), where government policy really matters, that is, in promulgating new energy provision to cover future marginal overconsumption.

Someone else mentioned the decaying power grid infrastructure. But that problem has been "highlighted" and lots of solutions are already being proposed at both the private and government level.

So in the final analysis, Hubbert may be correct, while at the same time it might not really matter. There are enormous financial resources and armies of people working to transcend any problem it might create.
posted by kablam at 9:02 AM on October 4, 2003

thanks kablam, but should we be continuing to chain ourselves to the oil model anymore? Continually hunting for new oil reserves or extracting it from new or protected places (whether Alaska or NIMBY) seems only to delay the inevitable to me.

Wouldn't it be smarter of us to go entirely electric in terms of cars and trucking and to build up the public transit system so that we're ready? I don't see ...enormous financial resources and armies of people working to transcend any problem it might create, but all those resources and people working to maintain the oil-based energy supply, especially our government and its programs.
posted by amberglow at 9:20 AM on October 4, 2003

I'm just replying 'cause I like to say "promulgating new energy provision to cover future marginal overconsumption." Has a nice ring to it. We'll see if it actually happens.

You might be a little optimistic on the slope of the curves for both demand and supply of oil. The latter is mentioned in one of the linked articles, the former I'm just guessing.

There is quite a bit of time lag for *any* of the alternative energy technologies you mention, not just nuclear. I dunno how long it takes to build a nuclear reactor, but probably not longer than it would take for hybrid-electric vehicles to become cost-effective and gain enough popularity that they start saturating the used car markets. If we wait for market pressures to force adoption of new energy tech, there will have to be a series of such events, any of which could be delayed long enough to create problems.
posted by sfenders at 9:53 AM on October 4, 2003

Previously discussed here, here, here, and here, and among these you'll probably find me putting more nested "previously discussed" links.

As you can see, I am pretty obsessed with the subject...
posted by samelborp at 10:08 AM on October 4, 2003

aramaic said:

Aleklett may be a great researcher (or not) but he sure as hell isn't much of a storyteller.

If you were to see Aleklet perform the same tale in front an audience, with real champagne bottles, you'll see he is at his best in live performances...

I went to the last ASPO meeting in Paris and he did that in the closing speech.
posted by samelborp at 10:19 AM on October 4, 2003

But... when gas prices are $10/liter, how am I going to fill my Hummer twice daily?
posted by squirrel at 3:23 PM on October 4, 2003

I dunno how long it takes to build a nuclear reactor

In the USA, the 3-mile Island meltdown put an end to any new reactors. However there is a new initiative on to build an entirely new reactor that can not melt down.. even if the water were to drain away there is no way for it to melt down (uses graphite encased uranium pellets). It will be built in Idaho and will be online around 2015. It will also produce hydrogen in mass quantities with the idea being by that time we will be hydrogen based. There will be no by-products from the hydrogen other than nuclear fuel waste, no greenhouse gases, a truely clean burning energy.
posted by stbalbach at 4:06 PM on October 4, 2003

it is overly simplistic to say that human-generated pollution is the single direct cause for any environmental phenomenon.

good thing I didn't say that.
posted by mcsweetie at 7:04 PM on October 4, 2003

So, um, when do we the people get the planet back? Are we waiting for them to give it back?
posted by squirrel at 8:11 PM on October 4, 2003

I wish I had mentioned this earlier in the discussion - if oil reserves run out as predicted by the Hubbert Curve.........well, there's an awful lot more coal on earth than oil and developing nations will simply be forced to start burning more of it. So: more CO2 than ever.

Further, the burning of fossil fuels is only one way in which humans are messing with the global carbon cycle. The cutting down of forests is one of many trends exerting a major impact.

Beyond even this, the claim that the stress limits of the Earth, as a system, are known so exactly is really quite irresponsible - also because of the fact that the impact humans have made on the biosphere will continue to ripple through the Earth system for thousands - even millions of years. The ultimate effects will not be known for a long, long time.

But at least one "Doomsday Scenario", a sudden climate shift driven by the partial or complete shutdown of ocean circulation, is already in motion - and even a complete cessation of fossil fuel burning might not avert a disaster.
posted by troutfishing at 8:59 PM on October 4, 2003

Fossil fuels were a lucky find. A little boost for humanity, a little energy just sitting for the taking, to help us develop a bit without having to worry about actually producing energy

We can't break the laws of Physics, can we?
posted by trharlan at 10:05 PM on October 4, 2003

Renewable Energy Policy Project (a link found through your link, trharlan-thanks)
posted by amberglow at 10:26 PM on October 4, 2003

There will be no by-products from the hydrogen other than nuclear fuel waste, no greenhouse gases, a truely clean burning energy.


posted by sic at 5:57 AM on October 6, 2003

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