Peak Oil — Surrealistic Sleepwalking Into Disaster

July 24, 2011

Greased-nuts-and-bolts and impractical machinery — reality’s pixilated dream of an era coming quickly to an end.

Peak oil appears to the naked eye less chaotic than climate change — a not-so-violent soft and gradual approach to cheap energy’s end without the visual horror and/or living through floods, tornadoes, fires, famine and drought as produced by global warming.

Apparently, from all indications society will just slowly coast to a stop, the various machines out of fuel — dead on the tracks.
And, from all indications, economics will in the beginning play a vital role, but unless some really, really unique energy source comes into play that can utilize mankind’s oil-based in-place mechanisms, and in a really, really expeditious manner, existence-as-we-know-it will cease to exist.

Normal-life discontinuance near-about here if we don’t near-immediately reorganize the entire societal approach to oil.

(Illustration found here).

Saturday afternoon I put another $20 worth of gas in my Jeep — the price was still at $4.09 a gallon for regular, where its hung for nearly a month.
And this oddly despite the upwardly mobile oil prices.
From liveoilprices: Brent crude oil futures for September 2011 delivery ended the week’s trading session at $118.55 a barrel on the ICE Futures Exchange yesterday evening, $0.89 higher than last week’s closing price of $117.66 a barrel.
And WTI was up too: US Light crude oil futures for September 2011 delivery ended the week’s trading session at $99.87 a barrel on the NYMEX, which was still $2.63 higher than last week’s closing price of $97.24.
Oil prices are climbing, and in some parts of the US, that rising cost is reflected at the pump, but apparently for some reason not up here in northern California — and we’ve always normally had higher-than-the-national-average.

And prices at the pump are indeed sliding upward — again.
Despite President Obama along with the International Energy Agency releasing 60 million barrels of crude oil from stored stock — half of that from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve — in attempts to halt rising gas prices, but the whole strategy was way-short lived.
From USATODAY: After falling to $3.54 a gallon from May’s $3.98 peak, prices have unexpectedly surged the past two weeks to a national average of almost $3.70 — a dollar higher than levels a year ago.
And drivers are also paying 15 cents more now than they did over the Fourth of July holiday, just three weeks ago.

There’s a nifty chart at mint.com which details where the highest gas prices are and how much folks pay per month for gas — and how many trips the gas station. (h/t Climate Progress).
According to the display, the national average is $177 with six trips to the pump per month laying out an average of $32 per transaction — the highest is San Jose, California, with $216 spent a month on eight trips to the station, the lowest (surprise) is New York City at $102 and only two visits to a gas pump.
Fuel tanks are hungry beasts.

So what’s the deal with the gas-pump, oil prices and peak oil?
Oil accounts for 34 percent of total global energy and 95 percent of transportation fuel — not accounting for a shitload of other products using some portion of petroleum in their production, such as plastics, paints, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, electronic components, even tires on that gas-guzzling car — and if oil is removed from the equation, it wouldn’t take long for a big chunk of life to go down the toilet.
One of the best explanations for peak oil can be found at the EnergyBulletin and its peak oil primer, with descriptions, history and links to other sources.
In most reports, the world oil peak was sometime between 2005 and 2008 — for years it was viewed as way on down the line — 2020, or 2030 — but like a lot of other bad stuff happening nowadays, bad shit coming is coming quicker than first anticipated.

Some stats from the OilVoice:

Approximately 65 percent of global original-oil-in-place (OOIP) is “trapped” and cannot be recovered using traditional primary and secondary oil recovery methods and processes.
Unfortunately, Peak Oil will be widely recognized as reality only “after” it has already happened.
Approximately 80 percent of all global oil fields continue to experience severe annual production declines of 5 percent to 15 percent (averaging around 8 percent).
The world actually uses about 1,000 barrels of oil per second — a staggering reality.

So staggering the peoples in charge don’t want shit like that out on the street.

Governments have been playing around with a dangerous dream-like bubble for the world’s peoples.
The International Energy Agency itself changed its peak-oil tune in late 2008.
From Energy&Capital:

After conducting the first comprehensive study of the annual decline in output from the world’s 800 largest oil fields, the IEA mentioned the word “peak” for the first time in its World Energy Outlook.
It also raised the annual decline rate from 3.7 percent to 6.7 percent — almost double the previous rate at which it said oil fields were depleting.

And just two months ago, this from IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol: When we look at the oil markets the news is not very bright. We think that the crude oil production has already peaked in 2006. The existing fields are declining sharply in North sea, in United States, in Gulf of Mexico. Just to stay where we are today we have to find four new Saudi Arabia’s, this is a tall order. (transcript here).
Dude, that’s a blockbuster report, but in reality no one took notice — why?

Yep.
In late April, the head of the IEA said crude oil production peaked five years ago.
No big deal — not newsworthy or anything.
He said it on a Thursday and we killed bin Laden two days later, so the clip conveniently didn’t make it into the news cycle…
But you know it now.
And you can use this truth for personal gain while the herd continues to obliviously graze.

See the problem — governments are in denial/covering up the peak-oil horror.

Gail Tverberg, an energy writer and editor at TheOilDrum, says peak oil will lower those standards of living we’ve all way-become accustomed and no end in sight:
From Tverberg’s post at oilprice.com last Friday:

The “natural” approach for fixing this problem is recession and debt defaults.
With limited oil supply, oil prices rise. As oil prices rise, the higher prices leave less funding for everything else, because oil is important for many necessities–food and commuting expenses particularly.
A person who pays more for food and commuting expenses will cut back on discretionary spending.
This leads to layoffs in market segments affected by cutbacks in discretionary spending–especially construction of new homes, building of cars, restaurant spending, and donations to charitable organizations.
Those laid off tend to default on loans.
Others default as well, especially those who were living “at the edge,” before oil prices rose.
The government tries to fix the problem by “stimulus,” and temporarily “fixes” the situation. This temporarily hides the situation in the governmental sector. What happens, though, is that the government finds itself with increasing debt levels because of its stimulus efforts, and inadequate taxes, because so many have been laid off work, and are not contributing to the tax base.
All of this leads to governmental debt problems, including the United States’ problems with debt limits, and the problems many European countries are having with debt.

One of the more stark — and a most-likely scenario — I’ve seen out there on peak oil was found in a piece at the UK’s PublicServiceEurope and a glimpse into the speed of the approaching energy crisis.
The article was about Keele University’s (also in the UK) research work under the title, “Facing The Future: Peak Oil And Children,” which explores oil consumption habits, especially among the young.
One of leaders of the research team is Professor Bulent Gokay.

“Every aspect of modern industrial life requires oil, we live in a petroleum landscape because it is still the most dense energy form we have ever found,” he explains.
“But discoveries are declining and the oil is running out.
It is a finite resource because it takes millions of years to renew.
Only the Middle East and Caspian Sea region now have spare capacity, everywhere else has reached peak – including the United Kingdom, Norway, China, Mexico, Venezuela, Indonesia, Russia, Syria, Libya, Nigeria and Qatar.
The cheap oil is already gone — when you have to drill deeper and deeper and in regions like the Arctic, it is much more expensive and the quality is not as good and not so easy to refine — due to the high sulphur content.”

“Oil prices will have to rise further to justify deep-water drilling,” says Gokay.
“You cannot stop this or control it; it’s simply a fact of economic life and physics rather than the fault of greedy oil companies or speculators.
There is no long-term solution except to reduce our energy consumption.
It’s not just about using bicycles, but radically reorganising society and there is no reason to think that will happen.
Oil ruled the 20th century and shortage of oil will rule the 21st century.
This is the secret ticking time bomb under the global capitalist system; we are nearing a real emergency scenario.
In less than 10 years, many ordinary people will not be able to afford to use their cars.”

“The trouble is that organisations and individuals think in terms of their own lifetimes — and politicians think about five-year election cycles rather than the long-term.
We are sleepwalking into disaster and we need to educate our young people on what peak oil is really all about.
As the Arabic saying goes ‘my father rode a camel, I drive a car, my son flies an airplane, his son will ride a camel.'”

(h/t TheOilDrum).

When one goes shopping, picking up the kids from the movie, driving to work, looking upon all the achievements of humanity and the ease of life, the reality of its demise is farfetched, yet one can also be so easily reminded of the comment from boat-builder Thomas Andrews in the film Titanic in answer to Rose’s question about the certain fact of sinking: “Yes. In an hour or so, all of this will be at the bottom of the Atlantic.”

And just as surreal real — not enough lifeboats, not by half.

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