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Some thoughts on "Peak-Oil" and "enough energy"
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Thoughts about "oil era" and "peak oil"

By "Nicholas Arguimbau" < n a r g u i m b a u e a r t h l i n k . n e t >

The people who did the leading technical work on the subject (in the nineties) were careful to avoid semantics by putting a definition out front which, to paraphrase, was that the "peak" was the peak of production of "conventional oil" on the assumption that unconventional means subject to risks of damaging the fields (such as premature pressurizing of fields through water injection) were not used for.

"Conventional oil" was that which did not require expensive unproven technology to develop, including petroleum at extreme depth, under Deep Ocean, and in particular, tar sands. The rationale was that price would rise dramatically and the energy return per barrel produced would drop dramatically with development of "unconventional" sources.

They recognized that the peak can be pushed back enormously; additionally, development of the unconventional sources would require a "quantum leap" in capital investment, and it was not written in stone that that investment would not go elsewhere, e.g. wind energy or (Arrgh!) nuclear.

"Peak oil" so defined, they predicted, would peak between 2005 and 2010, and that appears to have occurred. The industry, using the same definition, I believe, gave projections for around 2015, but those were based upon Saudi claims for its reserves, which appear to have been overstated.

There's a geologist in the technical "peak oil" camp (Campbell) who made a very simple point to justify the predictions: "You can't produce it if you haven't discovered it."

Production in oil fields has historically followed Gaussian curves with peaks following discovery by about thirty years. Discovery of conventional oil fields has been steadily dropping since the early seventies, and even "major" discoveries such as the Caspian fields have only created blips on a steady downward trend. So peak production of conventional oil had to follow peak discovery by around 30 years. The downward trend in discovery has been so steady so long that new discoveries that would affect the "peak oil" prediction are virtually impossible.

However, you can think of dividing oil into thee categories:
(1) "conventional,"
(2) "unconventional" sources that can be developed with less energy input than output (this appears to include a huge (2 trillion barrel?) segment of the tar sands oil), and
(3) sources for which the energy cost of production is greater than the energy benefit of using the final product.
Category 3 oil is virtually unlimited; however, like H2, you can call it a fuel but you cannot call it an energy source.

The projected curve of "conventional" oil production roughly tracks the curve of necessary reductions in GHG emissions to prevent global warming disaster (remember that the "conventional oil" predicted curve is Gaussian with a 30-year standard deviation), so the win-lose scenario for global warming translates, quite simply, to: "If we do not substitute coal and unconventional oil for conventional oil as it depletes, we win, but if we do substitute coal and unconventional oil for conventional oil as it depletes, we lose." It's that simple.

Further down are the mails that sparked the above explanation.

With regard to the notion that there would be "enough energy" (see further down), one could also argue as follows:

Replacing current levels of energy use will be very difficult.
Claiming that there is enough energy does not consider the environmental costs, nor the time frame and the ceteris paribus condition (assuming all other things stay the same; they will not!).

Moreover, modernity's environmental plight (overconsumption, overpopulation, environmental toxification) has come about by this huge temporary availability of easy fossil energy sources.

Therefore, even if we would "solve" the energy "problem" by finding sufficient alternatives, this would only allow mankind to continue overusing the other non-renewable resources, such as fossil water, land, other species.

This means appropriating more and more resources for mankind, leaving less and less for other living beings, plants and animals. This ever-increasing imbalance must lead to collapse, once we have consumed our support systems and nature.

Even cannibalism will then not keep us alive (cf. Swift: "A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragout.” and ).

Question: why are academics, politicians, leaders immune to this simple logic?

Helmut Lubbers
<<< reference "Charles A. Hall" c h a l l @ e s f . e d u 17. Apr 2009 09:31:56 >>>

Although I agree with much of what A. says it is important for people not to equate the huge amount of sunlight with the energy we derive from oil. Energy from oil is hugely concentrated ancient sunlight, is extremely energy dense (MJ/Ton) , readily transportable and of greatest importance exploited (so far) with relatively small energy investments. Solar is the opposite of all those (except for high EROI fuel wood). Any other form of energy from the sun is extremely energy intense to gather (i.e. low energy return on investment) especially if backups are considered (even energy cost of extra wires).

People did not become addicted to oil just because it provides easy transport but because from an EROI perspective it is “economic”. Alternatives will not only be environmental a problem but will return far less net energy to society, which will cause huge problems to maintaining current infrastructure.

People did not become addicted to oil just because it provides easy transport but because from an EROI perspective it is “economic”. Alternatives will not only be environmental a problem but will return far less net energy to society, which will cause huge problems to maintaining current infrastructure.

Charlie Hall
  • peakoil International Energy Agency - November 2006
  • The global battle for food, oil and water"
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    The above messages were in reply to this part of an ongoing discussion on overpopulation and overconsumption of resources:

    ----- Original Message ----- From: Brian Bloom To: A.P. Cc: Steve Kurtz
    Sent: 4/17/2009 11:38:39 PM
    Subject: RE: bacterially assisted canadian tar sand mining

    And so it becomes apparent, Anselmo, that you and I are not really at odds at all. We both want to reduce CO2 emissions. The reason I am arguing against the CO2 causes climate change “story” is that it will force us to become focused on CO2 emissions (via trading and caps) rather than forcing us to focus on alternatives to fossil fuels. By focusing on emissions trading we will be prolonging the period during which the fossil fuel related industries will be allowed to continue operating. They will merely buy the rights to produce CO2 from the poorer nations and, in so doing, prevent the poorer nations from joining the world economy.


    From: A. P.
    Sent: Friday, April 17, 2009 7:13 PM
    To: a m e r i k a l i s t a n @ m g . s k o l a . m a r k . s e;
    Cc: Steve Kurtz
    Subject: bacterially assited canadian tar sand mining

    Energy is not the problem, there is more than enough (e.g. solar) but I do not espect our oil-addicted economy converting fast enough to renewable & sustainable. For now I also do not see human population willing to shrink voluntarily to a sustainable level. The consequence is an economy so desperate for the "black gold" stuff I expect everything conceivable and technically feasible will be done to tap the ever last drop of fossil organic carbon. So we better know what may be in the pipeline, and what the most probable business plan of the oil/coal industry will be. Personally I expect the following three techniques emerging ahead:

    1) Gigantic coal liquefaction facilities and coal upgrading facilities (fisher tropsh synthesis, and bacterially assisted coal gasification).
    2) Gas hydrate mining (a resource thought to surpass all known oil and coal reservoirs discovered so far) will be developed at whatever costs.
    3) Bacterially assisted new mining methods to tap known resources (like tar sands) and residual reservoir resources that are now sub-unity-EROEI when accessed by conventional techniques. See this report as an example:

    With these prospects, I do not espect the "oil era" ending as soon as most "peak oil" doom and gloomers are predicting. A collateral will be CO2 raising to unthinkable levels, a hothouse climate (possibly tipping out of the present-day glacial-interglacial regime ), oceans acidification, coral reef and glaciers disappearing, and most of our biodiversity lost forever. Possible outcomes will also be a worsening of the population overshoot, (resource) wars (camouflaged as religious or ideological conflicts) , pandemics and, eventually, an involuntary and unpleasant rapid population decline.

    Only knowledge will allow for useful forecasts and sensible action.