Lost in Translation

September 18, 2010

Everybody everywhere always tries to put a little positive spin on nasty, unsettling or just plain dangerous shit, especially in connection with the two biggest influence-disasters facing mankind — peak oil and global warming (excuse me, “global climate disruption“).

Do these spin doctors and nurses have any regard for their children or grandchildren?
Can they see any length beyond the nose on their greedy, selfish faces?

Or do they want to blame others, or slop down the juice until they can’t stand upright?

(Illustration found here).

Of course, the term peak oil has been around awhile.
In 1956, U.S. geologist M. King Hubbert made public his prediction the US would reach the oil-production pinnacle about 1970, which in reality took place, but wasn’t fully recognized as a catastrophic event until later — The peak was only acknowledged with the benefit of several years of hindsight.
More attention might have been paid if oil consumption hadn’t been slowed by a series of geopolitical shocks in the mid-to-late 1970s, of which a similar situation is now occurring due to the financial-systems meltdown in 2008 — just a delay in the inevitable.
And there’s a delay between the “peak of discovery,” and the “peak” of production.
From Forbes and an interview with energy analyst Charles Maxwell:

We’re obviously in an unsustainable situation.
We are now using up a greater number of barrels that we have found in the recent past and that we have reserved in the ground.
We are now beginning to use it up relatively quickly — with scary consequences for the future.

In the United States, the actual peak of discovery was 1931, quite a bit earlier.
We were the first country to actually peak in the world of oil production. Our peak of production came in late in 1970.
So that was a 39-year transition from the peak of finding the oil to the peak of producing it.

I believe that the peak of discovery fell in the five-year interval between 1965 and 1970.
So if you took it at, say, 1968, and then you added 50 years, you would get to 2018.

Maxwell crunches numbers with information on hand: At the start, giant oil fields were pulling out about 25 percent of the oil at hand there, now it’s up to about 40 percent, and technology just won’t do the crucial job.

A bind is clearly coming.
We think that the peak in production will actually occur in the period 2015 to 2020.
And if I had to pick a particular year, I might use 2017 or 2018.
That would suggest that around 2015, we will hit a near-plateau of production around the world, and we will hold it for maybe four or five years.

And at around 2015, we will be unable to produce the incremental barrel in the global system.
So a tightness of supply will begin to be felt.
Let’s say in 2013, we may produce 1% more oil than we did the year before and then if we have a demand growth of 1¼% in 2013, we’ll be very slightly tightening the system.

We’ll be living in a dream world.
Things in the oil world are going to be just fine for the immediate future. We can buy gasoline at $3.00 per gallon or perhaps $2.75.
That is fine for now.
The problems come around 2013 or 2014, when we begin to find that this higher growth that you spoke about is nowhere matched by higher production of petroleum products and, obviously, we begin to run tight.

We are entering a world in which the value of oil, both above ground and underground, is going to be lifted rather more quickly than anything we’ve seen since some of the early days of the energy crises we have endured already.
And this will be on a continuing basis instead of on a temporary basis.

Forecasting stuff based on a lot of loose variables can be tricky in the best of situations.
Yet the next 36-48 months will tell the oil-stained tale.
A couple of news items tick a warning light with regards to peak oil — (Both from beyond the US, the oilman blog at the French magazine, Le Monde) — and both near-totally unreported in this country.
I caught both via the most-excellent theoildrum.
The first story came in March of this year based on a round-table discussion held by President Obama’s Department of Energy in April 2009 — a year earlier.
The head of that discussion, Glen Sweetnam, said peak oil is a reality and if “the investment is not there,” the shit’s gonna hit the fan: The DoE predicts that the decline of identified sources of supply will be steady and sharp : – 2 percent a year, from 87 million barrels per day (Mbpd) in 2011 to just 80 Mbpd in 2015. At that time, the world demand for oil and other liquid fuels should have climbed up to 90 Mbpd, according to the presentation document (from the round-table).
And nothing at all in the US press, either from a year earlier, or in March of 2010.
Read that story here.

The second story appeared on the oildrum this morning and from an interview dated from last Thursday with Dr. Robert L. Hirsch, who has worked with Exxon oil and the Rand corporation, and the author of the new book, The Impending World Energy Mess.
Hirsch was also a member of the US DoE under George Jr’s reign — and the author of a 2005 DoE report which outlined the coming terror of peak oil, but the report went nowhere: “The people that I was dealing with said : ‘No more work on peak oil, no more talk about it’.”
But with Obama?
It has not changed. I have friends who simply won’t talk about it now. So I have to assume that they are receiving the same kind of instructions.
And what does Hirsch feel about the near future and what the DoE says?
The difference is that they say we will get to that plateau somewhere in the future. But we are already there ! And if you look at the data, there’s no question we’re there…It’s going to be a mess, and all of a sudden it’ll be obvious.

Hirsch hits it on the money:

Yes. My background is physics.
There’s a term that I love.
Its called “non-linear.”
Linear is like this (Dr. Hirsch draws a straight line in the air).
Non-linear is this, or that, or this, that, that (Dr Hirsch draws many lines and curves going into very different directions), and so many things feed back on other things, and so forth.
Getting in and to try to understand the problem in some kind of detail is I think impossible because it’s very non-linear: that will impact this, and that will impact that, and that will impact people.

I was not surprised, because if you spend some time looking at peak oil, if you’re a reasonably intelligent person, you see that catastrophic things are going to happen to the world.
We’re talking about major damage, major change in our civilization.
Chaos, economic disaster, wars, all kinds of things that are, as I say, very complicated, non-linear.
Really bad things. People don’t like to talk about bad things.

And peak oil is not so dramatic appearing as climate change, no in-your-face calamities like a burning Russia or  a drowning Pakistan — just a slow, weird-ass suffocation.
And that non-linear business?
The one time I remember it being significant was through an explanation of “chaos theory” regarding the construction of a biological amusement park on a Costa Rican island, and we all know that incident went horribly, meat-grindingly bad.

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