[extropy-chat] Debate on Peak Oil

Samantha Atkins sjatkins at mac.com
Sun Apr 24 21:27:59 UTC 2005

I find the case for Peak Oil and quite soon compelling.  But whether we  
are nearing the Peak rapidly or not is in a way irrelevant.   If most  
of the major players believe we are nearing Peak Oil and act  
accordingly then most of the Peak Oil scenarios will quickly follow.   
My take is that a lot of the world's current events are much easier to  
explain if it is assumed most of the players believe Peak Oil is fast  
upon us.

- samantha

On Apr 24, 2005, at 10:25 AM, Hal Finney wrote:

> 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:
> http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-op- 
> edebate24apr24,0,7963584.story?coll=la-news-comment-opinions
> 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
> expensive.
> Hal
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