[extropy-chat] Debate on Peak Oil

Brian Lee brian_a_lee at hotmail.com
Sun Apr 24 19:33:34 UTC 2005

There's a decent writeup on kuroshin covering the same topic:


>From: hal at finney.org ("Hal Finney")
>To: extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org
>Subject: [extropy-chat] Debate on Peak Oil
>Date: Sun, 24 Apr 2005 10:25:53 -0700 (PDT)
>The Los Angeles Times has a debate today between Peter Huber, author of
>"The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste and Why
>We Will Never Run Out of Energy," and Paul Roberts, author of "The End
>of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World," on the topic of Peak Oil.
>This link will probably only work for a few days:
>The debate unfortunately quickly departs from the topic of whether we
>will see a near-term peak in oil production and what its impact might be.
>Instead the authors fall back to arguing about the need for a carbon
>tax and the role of nuclear energy.  The main value for me was the
>pointer to Huber's book, which I hadn't heard about.  It sounds like a
>useful source of contrarian commentary.
>I did read one other Peak Oil book, "Out of Gas" by David Goodstein,
>who was my physics professor when I was in college in the 1970s, and
>again my son's instructor three years ago.  Unfortunately this very thin
>volume was a disappointment.  Much of the content was a recap of the
>scientific discovery of conservation of energy and the meaning of entropy.
>The information specific to Peak Oil was basically what you can easily
>find online.
>The best factual backgrounder on the Peak Oil situation I've found
>is <http://www.hilltoplancers.org/stories/hirsch0502.pdf>, a Feb 2005
>report by a government think tank.  One weakness is that it is America
>centric and doesn't have much information about the rest of the world.
>But for America, the report notes that in 1973 the U.S. used 35 quads
>(quadrillion BTUs) of oil; then after the "energy crisis" usage declined
>to 30 quads by 1983.  Since then it has grown and has reached 39 quads
>in 2003.  Personally, I think it is amazing that oil usage has grown so
>little in the U.S., from 35 to 39 quads in 30 years of overall strong
>economic growth.
>In most sectors of the economy, oil usage has become much more efficient
>in the past few decades, and consumption has remained the same or even
>decreased.  The one glaring exception is transportation.  Almost half of
>oil goes for gasoline, and an additional 20% for diesel fuel.  This is
>where the U.S. has been unable to economize effectively, and this is
>where the economy would first feel the pinch as oil prices rise due to
>a production peak.
>Anyone who has driven in the U.S. recently will be aware that the
>current fleet of vehicles is not optimized for low fuel consumption.
>The good news is that tremendous efficiency improvements are possible
>even just given current technology.  The bad news is that this takes time
>and is expensive.  Under normal circumstances, half the cars on the road
>will be replaced by consumers in the next 10-15 years at a cost of 1.3
>trillion dollars.  If gas prices continue to rise this will probably
>accelerate, but the costs are likely to be even greater.
>One other concept which has come out of my reading is an acronym used
>by Peak Oil supporters, EROEI: energy return over energy invested.
>It is mostly used to disparage alternative sources of energy like
>ethanol, solar panels or tar sands.  The idea is that for many of these
>alternatives, you have to put in a great deal of energy to produce a unit
>of energy out.  That makes them look artificially inexpensive today (or
>at least last year) with generally low energy prices, giving a too-low
>estimate of break-even pricing.  With oil becoming more expensive, these
>alternatives will also be more expensive to produce and the break-even
>cost will climb.
>Saudi oil is said to have an EROEI ratio of about 30: spending the power
>of 1 barrel of oil produces 30 barrels.  But many of these alternative
>fuels have EROEI ratios of more like 2-5 and some are even less than 1,
>depending on the production methods.  This is a problem with government
>attempts to jump-start alternative fuels; the subsidies and market
>stimulation may make it profitable to exploit low-EROEI, energy-wasting
>methods of production.  The result is an alternative fuels industry that
>is unsustainable when energy prices rise.  The subsidies can actually be
>counter-productive by encouraging work on wasteful production methods
>instead of technologies that will be efficient even when energy becomes
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