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time stock up on leather jackets.
February 16, 2006 7:31 AM   Subscribe

Has oil already peaked? Princeton University geology Professor Kenneth Deffeyes argues that it has, based on the fact that oil production should peak when half the worlds oil has been produced. According to him, that happened in December of 2005, at 1.0065 trillion barrels. critics claim that new methods and economic effects should prevent peak oil from happening, although global oil discovery actually peaked in the 1960s. Meanwhile stock speculators are making mad bank betting on peak oil today.
posted by delmoi (75 comments total)

 
new methods and economic effects should prevent peak oil from happening

Uhh... hahn? Surely the best one could hope for is to delay the peak of oil production by finding more - unless they have a machine that can produce endless oil. What they mean, I'm sure, is "prevent peak oil from happening in our lifetime" -- leaving us free to scab and dirty the world for our children/grandchildren with our oil-burning excesses for just a little while longer, just a little, we swear, just one more hit, then we'll stop...
posted by Drexen at 7:54 AM on February 16, 2006


What does "time stock up on leather jackets" have to do with the linked page, or with oil? And what is the next sentence trying to say?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:02 AM on February 16, 2006


Uh, I was trying to make a mad-max joke, and I guess I failed.

And, also I now realize I mixed up the title and link fields, *sigh*.
posted by delmoi at 8:04 AM on February 16, 2006


I got the joke.
posted by bshort at 8:05 AM on February 16, 2006


I really dislike his methodology. He takes an estimated number with huge error bars (oil left in the world), does some algebra with it, and then compares that to the actual current production numbers to make a ridiculously specific claim.

Even worse, he sets himself up for ridicule, since all it takes is for the next set of production numbers to be higher, and poof... it's not actually the peak.
posted by smackfu at 8:05 AM on February 16, 2006


I intented the first two sentances to read

"Has oil already peaked? Princeton University geology Professor Kenneth Deffeyes argues that it has, based on the fact that oil production should peak when half the worlds oil has been produced."

That would probably make a bit more sense.
posted by delmoi at 8:06 AM on February 16, 2006


So this means that the Red States are soon to become empty states. All those people living in the boondocks will have to move closer to the big cities because driving 50 miles to work and WalMart will become too expensive.

Will the last person leaving Kansas kindly turn out the lights?
posted by three blind mice at 8:11 AM on February 16, 2006


I too got the joke, but it was a stretch.

Anyway, why does it seem that the purveyors of Peak Oil theories have more specific dates for the end of days than the Watchtower?
posted by Pollomacho at 8:14 AM on February 16, 2006


mr pibb + peak oil = crazy delicious
posted by wakko at 8:14 AM on February 16, 2006


While I more or less agree with the conclusions of the article, I find the article itself stupid and unconvincing (no insult intended, delmoi -- this is an important topic).

In particular, half the oil used up does NOT mean peak oil. For example, if we had "perfect" oil production capabilities (where we could immediately get any oil we knew about), peak oil would occur the moment before we entirely ran out.... Conversely, if three-quarters of the oil were extremely difficult to extract, we could hit peak oil long before we got to the halfway mark even.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:17 AM on February 16, 2006


In particular, half the oil used up does NOT mean peak oil. For example, if we had "perfect" oil production capabilities (where we could immediately get any oil we knew about), peak oil would occur the moment before we entirely ran out....

But we do NOT have the "perfect" oil production capabilities, so what's your point? You might as well say that "for example", if we had an infinite amount of oil, there wouldn't be a peak either.
posted by c13 at 8:22 AM on February 16, 2006


Bird flu has the potential to rip apart society long before peak oil effects ever do. Anyway, peak oil is such a scare tactic. We have lots of other sources of energy; they are just much more expensive. Electricity, alcohol, syn-fuels, etc. can all power vehicles, albeit for more money. Remote areas will become more remote, and we will likely get better public transportation but the world is not coming to an end over higher oil prices, unless someone gets greedy over the oil under someone else's sand and does something stupid.
posted by caddis at 8:25 AM on February 16, 2006


I invest only modestly, however a whille ago I switched it all into fossil energy.

I figure two things to be true: supply isn't going to go up, and demand isn't going to go down.
posted by sourwookie at 8:31 AM on February 16, 2006


For example, if we had "perfect" oil production capabilities...

Right. And if we had "perfect" food preparation capabilites, we could take some energy and carbon from oil, some water, a pile of dirt, and instantly transform it into a million Big Macs. Anyway, you'll want to check out Hubbert's paper if you want

I don't know if Deffeyes is right. It does look possible, but I've been betting on 2008 for the peak for entirely irrational reasons, and I haven't yet seen anything convincing enough to change my mind.
posted by sfenders at 8:41 AM on February 16, 2006


> new methods and economic effects should prevent peak oil from happening

Plan for the future. Bury a dinosaur today!

posted by jfuller at 8:42 AM on February 16, 2006


Oops. Hit "post" too soon. I was going to point out that I have no idea how Hubbert's idea really works, mathematically. Not sure how that logistic curve arises. I never was good at statistics.
posted by sfenders at 8:43 AM on February 16, 2006


It looks like Deffeyes bets on an empirical relationship that held true for US production. I am not sure whether it has been proven for other oil provinces (eg. North Sea), but I will look into it. My feeling -- and its just a feeling -- is that the empirical relationship used (peak production occurs when half of total original reserves have been produced) is a little too neat and tidy. I have some homework to do, to find out why production tends to fit this kind of curve.

My own reading of this is that we probably won't know when we peaked until sometime after it happens. Reported production numbers are notoriously unreliable. For instance, oil analysts rely on a network of port spies that count tankers and not the numbers released by Saudi Aramco.
posted by bumpkin at 8:54 AM on February 16, 2006


this means that the Red States are soon to become empty states. All those people living in the boondocks will have to move closer to the big cities because driving 50 miles to work and WalMart will become too expensive.

Will the last person leaving Kansas kindly turn out the lights?
posted by three blind mice at 10:11 AM CST on February 16 [!]


Is there anyone left in America that would have to drive 50 miles to get to a Wal-Mart?

I always find the "people deserting the heartland to move to NYC" fantasy amusing.

Also, lupus is right. The rate of extraction has nothing to do with how much is left. This is obvious with just a little bit of thought. Besides being logically unsound, you have to remember OPEC is a cartel and tightly controls production for most of the major suppliers.

Tomorrow's extraction rate has nothing to do with how much is left underground.

For example, you have a 20oz bottle of Mountain Dew. Your rate of consumption has nothing to do with whether the bottle is at 100%, 50%, or 25% capacity. You may drink it the fastest at the very first gulp, or you may wait till the end and drain it all very quickly.

Trying to determine peak oil by the rate of extraction is simply absurd.

It is, as mentioned above, much more likely that extraction will continue to increase at an increasing rate until we begin to scrape bottom. But certainly not 50%.

(Note: I understand difficulty of extraction increasing, etc. What I am talking about is the extraction rate of oil we ALREADY know how to extract. That is what we are doing today. So, yes, extraction of other, more elusive oil reserves may mean more difficult extraction in the future, but that has nothing to do with our extraction rate TODAY.)

Put yet another way, lets say we truly did hit exactly 50% in December. There is nothing at all preventing Saudi Arabia from markedly increasing production for all of 2006. Unless the well goes dry in 1 year, they could completely mask "peak oil" until we literally ran out.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:59 AM on February 16, 2006


"By 2025, we're going to be back in the Stone Age."

Not quite: we'll still have all these metal tools around; e.g., at some flea markets and antique shoppes one can still buy hand- operated hand drills and hand-cranked coffee grinders. And canned food stays good for years. And what stone-age culture had 30-speed mountain bikes?
posted by davy at 9:10 AM on February 16, 2006


Deffeyes is using the same methods as Hubbert. Hubbert got it right. Im not sure why people are calling Hubbert right, but Deffeyes wrong, without some explanation.
posted by stbalbach at 9:12 AM on February 16, 2006


Ynoxas -
You are correct that using extraction rates is a poor tool for judging peak capacity. However, the data you would need (rate of wells closing due to hitting the bottom) is actually a protected state secret for all oil producing countries. It's not something you can just look up through Lexus Nexus or any other public information database. This is why oil speculators can have a field day by seeding paranoid "peak oil" stories to the media and instill a sense of "well, we're running out of the stuff, so of course the price is higher" in Joe Schoe who suddenly has to bay 120% more for his fuel today than he did 4 years ago. It's one of the reasons so many people distrust Cheney so much right now, because he had a nice little sit down with the heads of those in charge of oil production and asked them "so, what can we do for you to make you more money?" No, not really. Well, maybe. We don't know. It's a secret. Apparently we don't have the right to know if there really is peak oil or if we're all being manipulated by a small cadre of men (and maybe some women) who think it's okay to artificailly inflate energy costs. At least so it would seem.

/end conspiracy theories and Subgenius routine.
posted by daq at 9:18 AM on February 16, 2006


Because people still debate if Hubbert was right because his reasoning was correct or because he was lucky. Deffeyes is clearly not as lucky.
posted by smackfu at 9:18 AM on February 16, 2006


Tomorrow's extraction rate has nothing to do with how much is left underground.

No, but it has everything to do with how much you can extract tommorow, and how much becomes for all intents unrecoverable.

There are technologies that can vastly increase the production of an oilfield in the near term. The most often used is water injection -- inject water into one part of the field to push oil and water to other parts.

There's a downside. Too much water, and you start damaging the oil bearing rock, and it clogs up. The oil left doesn't flow -- that fraction becomes unrecoverable.

The recovery curve change is dramatic. For a few years after water or steam injection, you get much higher yeilds. Then, wham -- the productivity stops. There's still oil down there, but it's trapped in water damaged rock, and new wells get only a very tiny bit of it before they stop producing.

Water injection can, if done correctly, increase the total recovery fraction of the field. This is a big win. However, it's often used to increase the recovery rate beyond sustainable levels -- that causes damage.

Even before the collapse, you see problems. When you're pumping out the oil, you also pump out the water you've injected. This is the water fraction. Some field are pushing a 30% water fraction at the wellheads. At a certain percentage, the recovery boost falls away -- yeah, you can pump the same number of gallons, but when 70% of it is water, it takes longer to pump a gallon of crude out.

One field that's sitting on a very high water fraction is the Gwahar Field in Saudi Arabia. This is the largest field, in size, reserves and production, in the world. In a very real sense, you have two oil fields in the world, Gwahar and Everybody Else.

Gwahar was, at last report, working a 25% water fraction. The few fields pushed that far lasted less than 10 years in production. Gwahar is big enough that it's somewhat dicey to extrapolate. The Texas field pushed this hard are all but dead, they run a few scraper wells that produce a few bbs/wk.
posted by eriko at 9:21 AM on February 16, 2006


Trying to determine peak oil by the rate of extraction is simply absurd.

It is, as mentioned above, much more likely that extraction will continue to increase at an increasing rate until we begin to scrape bottom. But certainly not 50%.


Actually, that's not quite true. To show you what I mean, let's use a Heinz ketchup bottle filled with peanut butter as an example. At first it's no real challenge to extract peanut butter from the bottle, you just stick a knife in there and you'll be able to pull a lot out. But as you pull more and more of the PB out, it gets harder and harder to get the last bits, the stuff stuck to the side, the stuff in the curve of the glass. Oil extraction, while not at all the same, suffers from similar difficulties. So the rate of extraction, the ease by which we can obtain the product, can be an indicator, if that rate starts to decrease. Now, does the decrease mean we've consumed 50% or does it mean 75%, I leave that for geologists to answer.
posted by furtive at 9:23 AM on February 16, 2006


I read this article a few days ago and I immediately thought that its tone was alarmist and therefore, less than likely to be taken seriously.

There is a lot of 'noise' about Peak Oil out there, but there is also a lot of good information about the topic. If you are interested in an extremely good primer on the subject, I recommend checking out Matthew Simmons' website.

The non-alarmists will tell you that they're not worried about running out of oil, per se. They're worried that we've already extracted all of the *easily* and *inexpensively* available oil on the planet. To extract the rest of it, particularly at current and expected future rates, will be far more expensive and far more difficult than the optimists suggest.

Further, people like Simmons point out that the low cost of oil throughout the mid 1980s through the 1990s was actually bad for everyone because low prices led to less investment in oil fields, technologies and exploration: why add capacity when prices are so low that profits are minimal?

The result is where we are today: a supply and demand scenario that is very closely balanced, with an oil infrastructure that is pumping and delivering about as much as it (safely) can and whereby the slightest disruption can have massive rippled effects.

People like Simmons also point out that traditionally, Saudi Arabia has functioned as the supplier of last resort, always able to step up to the plate at a moments' notice to fill in any gap in supply. He argues that this may not be possible any longer due to years of underinvestment and over-production of oil.

Finally, another main argument of people like Simmons is that oil pricing and data are no longer transparently available. Since 1982 Saudi Arabia has declined to provide accurate data or third party reviews of its data or oil sites. Since the late 1970s oil has not been directly sold, but handled through mercantile markets primarily in New York and London where speculators control the price more than actual supply and demand figures. The lack of transparency in the market makes prices fluctuate wildly, and more importantly, without much basis upon "fact" because "fact" is very difficult to come by in the oil market.

Simmons will point out that instances such as Shell Oil's "re-statement" of proven reserves a few years ago (downgrade of some 20% if I'm not mistaken), combined with Kuwait's recent downgrade of current reserves and Saudi Arabia's continued secrecy lead him to believe that the figures for reseves, proven reserves and future reserves used for decades by oil analysts are all junk figures without much basis in fact.

Finally, Simmons will point out that the desire to rely on 'technology' just has not panned out like optimists have said for decades. He also states that the economists' belief that "high prices will reduce demand" to be false because the entire modern economy is premised on cheap oil, from the production of food in fields to your carting it home in your SUV: regardless the price of oil, we need it to carry on even the most basic of modern tasks.

Sorry for the long-winded rant and semi-thesis posting here. The long and short of it is: don't worry about running out of oil, that's not going to happen anytime soon. CHEAP oil may be a thing of the past, however, and the major problems will erupt when and if the financial markets begin to absorb this information and realize that the good ole' days are done and gone. When the financial markets freak out, that's when chaos would perhaps erupt because financial markets are knee-jerk in their response to anything. This would be a massive knee-jerk reaction.

Simmons, contrary to a lot of other peak-oil scarepeople out there, does leave space for re-allocation of resources, new technologies that could become feasible now that prices are higher to justify the costs of investment and startup, etc. For example, shale oil may provide us with a secondary source, and CO2 injection plants that help push oil toward oil derricks may help rejuvenate older fields. However, these are still in their infancy and untested on a wide scale.

Oh folks, the best is yet to come!
posted by tgrundke at 9:24 AM on February 16, 2006


And what stone-age culture had 30-speed mountain bikes?

OK, stone-age culture with beat-up mountain bikes.

I for one am not that pessimistic about us finding new, economic energy sources; on physical scales human energy needs are pissant compared to energies all around us, and we've just been programmed for the past 100,000 years to think that energy is a scarce resource on this planet, when it's really not.

As fo the halfway argumentantion,

"It is important to note that the point of maximum production (known as the Hubbert Peak) tends to coincide with the midpoint of depletion of the resource under consideration. In the case of oil, this means that when we reach the Hubbert Peak,"

cite
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 9:25 AM on February 16, 2006


For example, you have a 20oz bottle of Mountain Dew. Your rate of consumption has nothing to do with whether the bottle is at 100%, 50%, or 25% capacity. You may drink it the fastest at the very first gulp, or you may wait till the end and drain it all very quickly.

Except it's not a bottle of mountain dew, it's more like a well that everyone in a town needs to drink from every day to stay alive. Do you see how it's much easier to predict how fast it will be used up based if the consumption is based on some predictable factor, like the amount of water everyone in the town needs to drink, or global oil use?


Expand the metaphor a bit, and it matches oil almost exactly. As one well starts to dry up, you dig more, and more, but eventually the rate of return starts to diminish as more old wells go dry then new ones can be dug. Yes, in theory you could go out on the last day and dig all your wells, but that's very unlikely to happen, due to economic factors that have been taken into consideration.
posted by delmoi at 9:43 AM on February 16, 2006


OK, stone-age culture with beat-up mountain bikes.

Not to mention nuclear reactors, and internal combustion engines that can run on ethenol or hydrogen.
posted by delmoi at 9:44 AM on February 16, 2006


Actually, that's not quite true. To show you what I mean, let's use a Heinz ketchup bottle filled with peanut butter as an example.

Well, how about this? A Pepsi blue bottle filled with butter mixed with sand. Unfortunately, the bottle is surrounded by radical Muslims who want to sell it too you at twice the price, and use the extra money to steal your toaster. How will you butter your toast now?
posted by delmoi at 9:48 AM on February 16, 2006



And what stone-age culture had 30-speed mountain bikes?


When i get bored and imagine the world without oil, I wonder how long things like bikes will last. Currently, it's my understanding that you need oil to make at least the tires and the tubes, but it theory, the supplies of premade tires will run out.

I wonder if there's someone who has modeled how long various items would last in a post-oil world, or post apocalyptic?
posted by drezdn at 9:48 AM on February 16, 2006



When i get bored and imagine the world without oil, I wonder how long things like bikes will last. Currently, it's my understanding that you need oil to make at least the tires and the tubes, but it theory, the supplies of premade tires will run out.


You can ride right on the rims. Also, you can extract rubber from rubber trees.
posted by delmoi at 9:51 AM on February 16, 2006


furtive: I grok what you're saying, and agree. I just think that the point at which you notice the increased difficulty of extraction, the peanutbutter on the sides, as it were, is much, much lower than 50%.

In other words, ever increasing production could continue until we were well past 50%. We could have hit the 50% marker years ago and would never have known it.

I just feel that extraction rates don't tell the story until you get so far along that it is already too late. You go along at full speed until one day you suddenly notice you're scraping bottom.

I don't trust the oil producers to be honest with me of when the well is half dry, or to allow an easily observed indicator, such as total output, to reveal that critical information.
posted by Ynoxas at 9:54 AM on February 16, 2006


The Stone Age comment is a bit silly. Why would a devasting global depression wipe out 10,000 years of civilization?

Give the human race a little credit for creativity. I'm sure that if the West fails life will go on.

If you take institutions away we don't all become turd-flinging monkeys overnight. To achieve that kind of barbarism isn't easy on a planetary scale.
posted by CheeseburgerBrown at 9:56 AM on February 16, 2006


Is there anyone left in America that would have to drive 50 miles to get to a Wal-Mart?

50 miles may be stretching it but my sister-in-law has to drive approximately 30 minutes in order to get to anything but an Acme (which just opened a couple years ago) or (appropriately enough) a gas station.

I think there maybe a post office too, but the downside is you have to pick up your own mail (this may also be different, we haven't talked about it in a while).

So although her house was pretty inexpensive (she paid about half of what I paid for mine, for a basically comparable house), if the price of gas were to inflate to European levels (what is it, about $5.00 a gallon?) her house would become a lot less economically viable, since filling her tank would run her at least $150 a week... meaning her gas payment would compete with her car payment, and both together would exeed her mortgage.

That sucks. But it is quiet out there. Except for all the cars and trucks. And the guns during hunting season.
posted by illovich at 10:00 AM on February 16, 2006


Uh, I was trying to make a mad-max joke, and I guess I failed.

Not quite. The first rule is to find comfortable footwear.
posted by Smart Dalek at 10:07 AM on February 16, 2006



"You can ride right on the rims. Also, you can extract rubber from rubber trees."


Which we use industrial (petroleum based) fertilizers to grow. And electricity to process, which likely also came at least partially from hydrocarbon usage.

"
I for one am not that pessimistic about us finding new, economic energy sources; on physical scales human energy needs are pissant compared to energies all around us, and we've just been programmed for the past 100,000 years to think that energy is a scarce resource on this planet, when it's really not."


Uh. Really, it is. Or rather, we don't have the infrastructure to replace the hydrocarbon-centric energy system we are completely reliant upon now.

And by the time things get bad enough that people start taking the issue seriously, there may not be enough resources left to completely retool a global transportation/energy/agricultural infrastructure completely reliant upon petrochemicals.

The issue is energy density. There's very little out there that has a comparable energy density to oil.

Nothing moves, grows, lights up, or makes new stuff, without multiple petrochemical energy costs, and there is no plan to transition to a post oil energy infrastructure being put in place, now, while we still can, mostly because too many people are willing to bury their heads in the sand and say, "It's no big deal, we've still got time..."
posted by stenseng at 10:08 AM on February 16, 2006


Remote areas will become more remote, and we will likely get better public transportation but the world is not coming to an end over higher oil prices, unless someone gets greedy over the oil under someone else's sand and does something stupid.

"Unless"?
posted by jokeefe at 10:14 AM on February 16, 2006


Or rather, we don't have the infrastructure to replace the hydrocarbon-centric energy system we are completely reliant upon now.

I've done the math on California's petrol usage vs. electricity usage; IIRC California would have to triple its power generation to replace petrol with AC/DC.

'course, there's a lot of NG being burned to create AC now, but the energies are out there, once we get serious about it.

Part of the problem is that we as a people are putting 90% of our money into land valuations and not the houses themselves... intelligent urban planning and more efficent HVAC (heat pumps drilled into the ground, old-school distributed steam generators for heating entire neighborhoods instead of individual furnaces, solar roofs, etc etc).
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 10:19 AM on February 16, 2006


mostly because too many people are willing to bury their heads in the sand and say, "It's no big deal, we've still got time..."

this is what I find most frustrating. Lack of inaction, ie the frog in the pot reaction. $2.50/gallon is beginning to wake people up, but in the back of our minds we still think the price is going down substantially, after all it always has before.

We can borrow $240B to put Hamas in power in Baghdad, but God forbid we spend half that on intelligent energy policy.

We, quite simply, suck as a nation. Thanks Ralph.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 10:24 AM on February 16, 2006


Ralph?
posted by stenseng at 10:30 AM on February 16, 2006


Ralph.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 10:39 AM on February 16, 2006


Oh please.
posted by delmoi at 10:53 AM on February 16, 2006


Oh christ. You're kidding me.


Between massive voter fraud by the GOP, and the laughably badly managed and uninspiring campaign that Gore ran, you're going to blame Ralph?


When even since, we've seen that mainstream DNC/DLC "leadership" is more than willing to abandon their base, their core values, for centrist triangulation nonsense that doesn't work and then is too gutless to even say anything when two elections are stolen right from under their brown fucking noses, you're still going to blame Ralph Nader???

Nigga, please.
posted by stenseng at 10:53 AM on February 16, 2006


Blame the widespread vote fraud that nobody seems to want to address.

in both 2000 and 2004.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:59 AM on February 16, 2006


campaign that Gore ran, you're going to blame Ralph?

No, I'm thanking him.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:05 AM on February 16, 2006


Tomorrow's extraction rate has nothing to do with how much is left underground.

Exactly. But if a "Princeton professor" said it, it must be true.

Now get a bike.
posted by MarshallPoe at 11:18 AM on February 16, 2006


Which we use industrial (petroleum based) fertilizers to grow. And electricity to process, which likely also came at least partially from hydrocarbon usage.

You know rubber trees were around before humans and their fancy petroleum based fertilizers, besides, one could just use organic fertilizers. Take for instance the by-product of bio-digesters churning out ethanol and methane out of dead stuff and poop.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:20 AM on February 16, 2006


Okay, you do the math on petrochemical fertilizers, population growth rates, and whether non-"fancy petroleum based fertilizers" can sustain the world population at the levels it has expanded to thanks to the ready availability of cheap, dense, energy, i.e. oil, and then get back to me.
posted by stenseng at 11:36 AM on February 16, 2006


Okay, you do the math on petrochemical fertilizers, population growth rates, and whether non-"fancy petroleum based fertilizers" can sustain the world population at the levels it has expanded to thanks to the ready availability of cheap, dense, energy, i.e. oil

I just gave it a shot. Looks like the answer is: "YOU MAY RELY ON IT." Hooray!
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 11:47 AM on February 16, 2006


Glad to see the magic 8-ball pull us through a tight spot yet again... =)
posted by stenseng at 11:53 AM on February 16, 2006


Dudes. Embrace the decay.

First of all - Oil is NOT running out. That is the big misconception about Peak. There will be oil. It simply will be very very expensive an we won't infuse the shit into everything we make. We won't be able to count on exponential growth in the energy sector. Oil will be used far more strategically and only by wealthy nations.

Peak oil will be a good thing. No more SUV's. A check to fossil fuel's contribution to global warming. More diverse energy supply. Conservation centered planning. Fewer non-biodegradable materials in the consumer sphere. More organic centered agricultural practices. Denser population centers. Economies will have reconsider their notions of "growth" and the end all be all.

ALL good.

Yes there will be population contraction in the world. RE: Many people will die. Some people will starve. There will be wars. That is all bad.

But the planet is long past is comfortable carrying capacity for humanity without advanced technology fueled by cheap energy. If we are smart about it there is no need for massive suffering.

Though, on second thought, we probably won't be smart about it.
posted by tkchrist at 12:04 PM on February 16, 2006


tkchrist makes a good point and reminder: we're not going to run out of oil, it's just going to be more difficult to acquire and its distillates more expensive to purchase.

Most of the "good" Peak Oil folks out there recognize this and also recognize this as a big plus for "energy" as a whole. We need to have less of a discussion about "Oil" and more of a discussion about ENERGY as a major issue. The 20th Century and all its wonders (and wars) was made possible by very very VERY inexpensive energy. To maintain and continue this, we need to find ways to keep energy relatively inexpensive.

The rise in oil prices will lead to what always happens: market disruption. This will be good in the long term, but potentially dangerous in the short run, especially if panic and hoarding take hold. I think that's why you find most (intelligent) politicians and most industry executives being very quiet on the subject, without being terribly subversive about it. Shell Oil's most recent annual report gives some subtle nods to the validity of peak oil and the need to find new sources of ENERGY, but it is coached in a very subtle way, much like how the Federal Reserve (Greenspan/Bernake) try to coach their words with great subtlety to help prepare markets and not unsettle them.

I think that this may be one of the reasons why the Cheney Energy Taskforce was so secretive and cloistered in their activities. My (tin foil hat time, folks!) theory here is that Cheney and Company (read: petroleum industry) are aware of the situation and the potential future chaos that could ensue. I don't think that there's any grand conspiracy to destroy the environment or ruin the renewable energies industry. Quite the contrary - I have the sneaking suspicion that the Energy Taskforce was the beginning of serious discussions about what we need to do to keep the transition to new sources of energy relatively tranquil, and in the meantime, how to protect America's supply and need for petroleum and petroleum products.

The current massive profit windfall to the energy companies also may be a good thing - providing economic incentive for research and development and further exploration. As prices rise, certain types of oil, such as shale, etc. will become economically viable. These are all big "ifs" of course, but as the movie Syriana highlights so well, the system is so complex and there are so many players, it's almost impossible to comprehend completely.
posted by tgrundke at 12:21 PM on February 16, 2006


Yes there will be population contraction in the world. RE: Many people will die. Some people will starve. There will be wars. That is all bad.

But hey, no SUV's, so its all good!

Jesus Christ....
posted by c13 at 12:22 PM on February 16, 2006


Yes there will be population contraction in the world. RE: Many people will die. Some people will starve. There will be wars. That is all bad.

Would you feel the same way about this if you knew that some of the people who were going to starve might be your family, and the wars might take place in your country?
posted by jokeefe at 12:32 PM on February 16, 2006


based on the fact that oil production should peak when half the worlds oil has been produced.

That's a hypothesis, not a fact, and not even a very good or testable one, unless somebody's established a very simple relationship between supply and peak-level production capacity that I'm not aware of. I admit this possibility, but I suspect production peak has more to do with demand and extraction profitability on remaining stock.
posted by Opposite George at 12:42 PM on February 16, 2006


Recently I have been developing this totally unreasonable, totally hopeful belief that someone, somewhere is at this very moment on the verge of making a huge breakthrough in clean energy technology. The only thing I have to support this idea is an unending awe for the wonders of scientific advancement and a healthy respect for mankind's greed, because whoever gets there first is going to be one wealthy son of a bitch.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 1:03 PM on February 16, 2006


Recently I have been developing this totally unreasonable, totally hopeful belief that someone, somewhere is at this very moment on the verge of making a huge breakthrough in clean energy technology.

In the future, all we're going to have to do is think of an invention, and a machine will make it for us. How cool is that?
posted by billysumday at 1:08 PM on February 16, 2006


Shut up.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 1:09 PM on February 16, 2006


sirmissalot:

Although I doubt it is "clean energy", I consider this to be a problem that has already been solved. Companies like Exxon have spent truly staggering amounts of money in R&D in the last 30 years. I would be more than a little surprised if this resulted in nothing.

Exxon does not want to simply vanish once all the dead dinosaurs are pumped out. They have a plan. And that plan will involve being able to power automobiles with something BESIDES petroleum. I expect they will have other surprising creations to substitute for plastics production and other vital roles of petroleum.

"Look, we have the solution! Now of course, it will cost $5 per gallon, instead of $2.50, but we have averted a global crisis!"

1. Sell product of a finite supply that everyone needs
2. Convince everyone supply is near depletion
3. Create artificial/synthetic/alternative substitute
4. Profit (and buddy, I mean profit)

Rest assured some smart guy at Exxon has already thought of this. Probably several decades ago.

Note this doesn't make me a wide-eyed optimist, it makes me a cold calculating capitalist.

Do you REALLY think Exxon considers itself a temporary entity?
posted by Ynoxas at 1:53 PM on February 16, 2006


That's a hypothesis, not a fact, and not even a very good or testable one, unless somebody's established a very simple relationship between supply and peak-level production capacity that I'm not aware of. I admit this possibility, but I suspect production peak has more to do with demand and extraction profitability on remaining stock

This is probably more true than that we've gone through roughly half of the oil available. I also think this is the core of the debate. So far folks have painted this like a mountain where we are now at the "peak". I'd suggest it's more like a valley where we are not at the trough.

It's been very easy to get to the point where we are at right now. Oil has been relatively easy to find and produce and we've had more than enough to meet demand. I think we are starting to see that demand is starting to get bigger than supply (thus $60 a barrel oil prices) and demand is continuing to grow. It's likely that in the near future supply will begin to fall as well.

If this happens then the hard part of the curve begins and it'll be an uphill task to get out. Personally I don't see how this won't happen (or isn't in fact already happening). We have growing demand and at best a static supply.
posted by aaronscool at 1:55 PM on February 16, 2006


Ynoxas:

The problem still remains: at $5/gallon, how affordable will it be to truck everything everywhere? The price of everything will go up if gas doubles like that. Oil isn't going to run out so much as we're (we being the world) all going to need more of it, and won't have it around so cheaply anymore.
posted by billysumday at 2:04 PM on February 16, 2006


Leather jackets? I've thought assless chaps.


posted by Smedleyman at 2:28 PM on February 16, 2006


The problem still remains: at $5/gallon, how affordable will it be to truck everything everywhere?

Word. Not to mention that many of the alternative sources proposed as solutions by the well-meaning but poorly-informed are heavily dependent on easy access to cheap petroleum products. If things blow up, it will be like hitting a wall, and bumper-sticker solutions aren't going to save us. Where's the planning, people?

Ynoxas, as much as I want to believe that there's a ready-made, previously-unknown (save to Exxon) economical solution already out there, there are a number of reasons I have to doubt that, not the least of which is a reluctance to embrace faith in lieu of evidence (and I'm a cold, calculating capitalist too.)

I think we will solve the energy problem, but it won't be a lay-up.
posted by Opposite George at 2:38 PM on February 16, 2006


Exxon does not want to simply vanish once all the dead dinosaurs are pumped out. They have a plan.

Exxon has a plan? I wonder if they'll share it with us in advance. I dunno. Even if I thought new technologies were going to save the day I wouldn't be betting on Exxon being the ones to do it. BP is a little ahead of them with their "Beyond Petroleum" schtick, but I rather suspect it will be some smaller, more specialized corporations that nobody has heard of yet that will have the most to gain.

Do you REALLY think Exxon considers itself a temporary entity?

No more than Enron did.
posted by sfenders at 3:19 PM on February 16, 2006


Leather jackets? I've thought assless chaps.

Aren't all chaps assless?
posted by illiad at 3:24 PM on February 16, 2006


*looks behind himself*

Sadly not. Some of us are very well assed indeed.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:07 PM on February 16, 2006


Do you REALLY think Enron considers itself a temporary entity?
posted by stenseng at 4:09 PM on February 16, 2006


Yes there will be population contraction in the world. RE: Many people will die. Some people will starve. There will be wars. That is all bad.

and..

Would you feel the same way about this if you knew that some of the people who were going to starve might be your family, and the wars might take place in your country?

Oh. GAWD. Grow up people.

[ sarcasm filter ] Wow. You have completely blown my mind and altered all my perceptions and how I think of the world. Quick give me a baby to kiss! Lo, witness how I weep for the children...boo hoo... I hereby give away all my worldly possessions! [ /sarcasm filter ]

What the fuck are you talking about "how would I feel"? How do you THINK I feel? Well. Your wrong.

And what does feeling have to do with anything. My feelings are irrelevant. As are yours.

Is it really necessary on Metafilter for us contextualize EVERY thing with how good we are as people and how moved we are about the suffering of this and that just so a couple of dipshits won't go a wringing their hands and wagging their fingers at you?

So yeah, golly, people - dying is bad. What you want? You want me to cry about it?

It's not what I feel that counts. It's what I KNOW.

And what I know is that Peak is a certainty sometime soon. It is inevitable. And that it will have disastrous consequences. Consequences I can't prevent and due to the fickle hand of fate, geography, and history these consequences will likely NOT directly kill people I know. Rather people I DON'T know.

I'm THANKFUL about that. Why shouldn't I be? You should be too. That don't mean I wouldn't work to lessen the suffering of people I DON'T know.

But call me a "glass half full" kind of guy, I guess. But Peak will Also have good effects. And no SUV's is one - but note to dipshits - only the LEAST of the good things I mentioned.

In the long run Peak COULD lead to a better, more stable, world with out the damaging effects of fossil fuels.

Or not. And a bunch of people die in vain.

Gnash teeth. Pull out hair. Wail.
posted by tkchrist at 4:30 PM on February 16, 2006


So let's assume, for a moment, that the technological sophistication of any planet's intelligent life is measured by the degree to which said race takes advantage of it's local, relatively limitless nuclear energy source, both for planetary energy requirements, interplanetary colonization needs and eventual interstellar travel. Every planet has one of these awesome fusion reactors, at exactly the proper safe distance from the planet. More power than anyone will ever need. Yes, there are technical hurdles to processing the radiation into useful energy, but the entire foundation of the food chain on the planet is based on this energy. If you happen to have a nice big hunk of rock orbiting the planet, it can be deployed as a massive solar collector, working around the clock to capture and store this radiant energy for all sorts of fun and useful stuff.

More sophisticated civilizations find that absolutely all energy needs are met by their local star. By the time the energy source runs it, the race better have moved off the planet, as a star exploding/imploding is never good for the local planetary system.

Less sophisticated civilizations tend to turn inwards, burrowing down into their planets, looking to extract dense organic matter for processing into a variety of useful materials. They fabricate all sorts of objects from these materials, including little plastic dinosaur toys, the irony of which has never ceased to amuse me deeply.

Perhaps one day we'll figure out it's time to actually evolve and behave like a technologically advanced species, instead of acting like a bunch of spoiled, selfish brats.

Or maybe not.
posted by dbiedny at 4:34 PM on February 16, 2006


What do you think the Bible Code says about Peak Oil?

Remember when that was all the rage? How it could predict stuff in the future. I bet if we diagrammed the Torah in the correct way, we could have already figured this stuff out.
posted by billysumday at 4:39 PM on February 16, 2006


Not sure how the Enron comparisons are apt. Enron fell due to massive corruption and fraud, not because their primary product vanished.

And, it very well could be that Exxon has nothing in their secret vaults, that they fully intend to pump oil until the wells go dry, then just tip their hats and say "Well, it was a wild ride" and turn out the lights and disappear into the sunset.

But I do not consider that likely.

I don't expect a miracle, but I do expect something. Some sort of product/method/alternative that works reasonably well. I fully expect it to be more expensive and less efficient, because if it were cheaper and better, they would have already made the switch.

I know the comparison is weak, but the Peak Oil discussion reminds me a lot of Y2K. Both we were told were inevitable, there was no way around them. This is of course logically true. Jan 1 2000 did indeed come, and if we keep pumping crude up, one day it will all be gone.

But, lots and lots and LOTS AND LOTS and lots and lots of people, very well respected, educated, experts in their fields, Ivy League Professors, captains of industry, etc all predicted things ranging from a worldwide economic depression to an overnight return to the Middle Ages due to Y2K.

Some have suggested their early ravings were what helped save the day in the end... that the cacophony of doomsaying was sufficient to motivate otherwise disbelieving leaders to embrace it as a "real problem" and dedicate the resources required to avoid a complete infrastructure meltdown.

Surely the same can be done for Peak Oil, no?

I just refuse to believe there is "no solution" for transportation/heating/lighting/etc in a post-petroleum world. And if there is a solution, it is absolutely in the economic interest of Big Oil to be spending lots of dollars on finding it, as the profits to follow would be breathtaking.

Do you other posters believe there simply is no solution? That once the oil is gone, then we will overnight return to pack animals and wagons?

I'm only suggesting that Big Oil has seen this day coming for a very, very long time, much longer than any of us have probably been familiar with the concept. Much longer than many of us have been alive.

Surely it is not crazy to think they have prepared for the inevitable?

So I guess I do believe based on faith. But it is faith in the market, in the incredible motivating power of profit.

Put another way, if it is indeed at all possible to create a "substitute" for petroleum, due to the high profit potential, there is a very good chance that product has already been conceived/tested/created.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:55 PM on February 16, 2006


Ynoxas,

And, it very well could be that Exxon has nothing in their secret vaults, that they fully intend to pump oil until the wells go dry, then just tip their hats and say "Well, it was a wild ride" and turn out the lights and disappear into the sunset.

But I do not consider that likely.


Look, I want to believe, too. One of my dark secrets is that I was an Objectivist into my early 20s and it was just as cute when I said stuff like "faith in the market" then as when others say it today. :) Here's secret two: I continue to be charmed by the thought that greed working together with human potential can solve more problems than most people expect. So maybe I'm still a little cute (Ladies -- here I am! Ladies?!? Anybody?)

But part of my growing up involved spending years cleaning up some pretty big corporate messes and I've seen, first hand, a lot of really poor planning by corporations who should have known better, destroying themselves in the process (no need to go into details here.) Until you get deeply involved with some of these organizations, it's difficult to understand how strongly some value the short term at the expense of longer horizons. I'm not saying they all work like this, but it happens more frequently than you might expect, and it strikes me as naive and irresponsible to count on the existence of some mystery solution when there are things that can be done through public efforts (including sponsoring private research and development) to come up with accessible, available answers before a crisis hits and thus help society and industry plan effectively for the future.

The decision to put all one's faith in the market to solve mankind's problems seems to be better justified by (some) philosophical ideals* than by pragmatic reality. Yes, I do believe that ultimately things might work out if we don't do anything until we hit the energy wall. But I also believe that we can minimize our pain and hedge the risk of societal collapse by putting more effort into solutions today.

But hey, maybe you're right and I can go back to waiting for Exxon to save me (they've done such a great job keeping my elderly neighbors from freezing this year!) :)

Keep fighting your fight, bro (sis?), and I'll fight mine. At least, ultimately, we're both after the same end.

*The ideals that get you there include a sort of 18th-century determinism combined with the following identity: "the correct answer" equals "the answer the market comes up with." There's less room for other, touchy-feelier ideals like altruism and the Golden Rule of our president's favorite political philosopher. Regardless, every day that passes convinces me more that for most every ideal there are situations where blind adherence increases suffering, which is why I've become more pragmatic as I've grown wiser aged festered matured.
posted by Opposite George at 10:36 PM on February 16, 2006


Do you other posters believe there simply is no solution? That once the oil is gone, then we will overnight return to pack animals and wagons?

Not me. Well, not really. Some people today still use pack animals and wagons. I do expect the numbers of people who do that will increase. But I don't expect to be doing it myself. There is no solution that will allow things to go on just as they have, but there are considerably better possible outcomes than "Back to the Stone Age." Of course whatever the outcome, it will not happen over night. I expect the adjustment to some form of more sustainable way of life to take at least fifty years, probably longer.

As for Exxon, I don't see why they can't just keep on doing what they've been doing for a good many years to come. The business of producing and refining oil will be immensely profitable for quite a long way into the decline. Their estimated reserve life at current rates of production is about 14 years. They will continue to acquire some additional reserves, one way or another. By the time that the volume of what they're able to produce starts to decline, its price will be more than high enough to keep them in business.
posted by sfenders at 6:46 AM on February 17, 2006


OG: (heh) I agree to a great extent with you. Reading over my post, it is the sort of thing I would tend to discount as well under normal circumstances. That my argument could be considered Objectivist sends a shiver down my spine. I blame the cold medicine. However, I guess I need to work on my packaging because I don't see the argument in my head being what Rand would approve of.

I guess I'm expecting (hoping?) greed outweighs incompetence.

Rest assured I'm not counting on someone like Exxon to "do the right thing" or to be some sort of altruistic grandparent who comes through with the magic cure at just the right moment.

I expect them to try to extend their global dominance and maintain their place as the world's exalted corporate behemoth through any means necessary. And, they have known, for a very long time, that one day we will be approaching "the end". And I expect their solution to be more-or-less extortion.

I know corporations can be stunningly incompetent at times. But they can also be frighteningly greedy, secretive, and selfish.

Hmm. You may not be too far off OG. This disturbs me. I wonder when I was contaminated? I need to go take some more cold medicine.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:36 AM on February 17, 2006


Surely the same can be done for Peak Oil, no?

Well what would you suggest? I'd love to hear it.

Sure we'll be able to extract oil out a bit more efficiently as technology improves (squeeze harder on the sponge as it were). But I think most folks have already acknowledged that the number of new field discoveries out there is minimal at best. So we'll simply be improving the extraction rate of our known reserves.

Right now the world is pretty much operating at full capacity for oil extraction and will continue to do so for the next year at least and possibly more.

Demand for oil is rising (hence the increases in price), yet for the near future supply will be relatively static.

Now either there will be a miracle of technology that in the next 5 years will allow us to not only extract more oil quicker, but that this technology will keep up with a growing demand curve as well.
posted by aaronscool at 9:51 AM on February 17, 2006


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