‘Peak Oil’ Persiflage — Ha!

November 21, 2013

OIL PUMPClear and cold this way-early Thursday on California’s north coast, and we can near-about see the weekend from here.
Still not close enough, though, to reach out and touch.

As the the UN climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, dribble to an end this week, the counter-balance to life as we know it may soon slam shut, again (via Bloomberg): The risk: Oil and coal companies worth more than $7 trillion may be sinking billions of dollars today into projects that will never make sense to finish.
The fossil fuel dash may soon be over, and sooner than later, as ‘peak oil’ might be once more looming.

(Illustration found here).

The concept of “peak oil” was a hardy subject matter just a few short years ago: In a seminal paper written fifty years ago, M. King Hubbert (1956), a geologist with Shell Oil Company, considered exactly this question. Hubbert proposed that production of fossil fuels should follow a bell curve and predicted that United States production should peak in 1971 and then begin to decline. As it turned out, his prediction of the timing was spot on.
Hubbert claimed the US would peak in 2000 — this got lost in the shale oil/fracking blow-out, which occurred in the last five years or so. In the US, way-most of this new oil comes from North Dakota’s Bakken field and Texas’s Eagle Ford region, both of which are already in decline, at a rate of 40 percent a year.
J. David Hughes, president of the Canadian firm Global Sustainability Research: “Tight oil is an important contributor to the U.S. energy supply, but its long-term sustainability is questionable. It should be not be viewed as a panacea for business as usual in future U.S. energy security planning.” (via Phys.org)

In these so-called projections, one must remember no one is certain of anything. Even in that most-direct consequence of fossil fuel use, climate change, all the researchers, scientists, survey-takers, whatnot, only make educated guesses based on models or math. Reality most of the time presents a different picture. And we’re back on the road to break-down — from the UK’s Guardian:

The new University of Maryland study, in contrast, conducts a review of the scientific literature on global oil production and argues that the bulk of independent, credible studies indicate that a “production peak for conventional oil [is] likely before 2030”, with a “significant risk” it could occur “before 2020.”
Unconventional oil such as Canadian tar sands is “unlikely to expand enough to fill the gap,” and this also applies to “shale oil and gas.”
Shale wells, the study argues, “reach their maximum production levels (peaks) much earlier than conventional ones and are therefore difficult to operate profitably.”
Although US Geological Survey (USGS), Energy Information Administration (EIA) and International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates project that the decline of conventional resources will be more than compensated by ‘yet to be developed’ and ‘yet to be found’ fields, other scientific studies find that these “projections are overly optimistic.”

The study notes that “oil shortages pose a high risk for economies” and points to evidence that high oil prices were a “partial cause” for the 2008 global financial crisis.
Focusing on the US economy — the biggest consumer of oil and oil-based products in the world — the study found that all major industrial sectors were at risk, including food and food processing, primary agriculture, metals and metals processing, and transport:

“Because such sectors contribute substantially to US GDP, and because they connect to so many other sectors, they could put the entire economy at risk in the case of Peak Oil or other supply interruptions. The present economic system relies strongly on them and their output may become significantly more expensive due to oil price increases.”

The IMF has calculated that for the global economy to grow by 4 percent in the next five years, oil production must increase by 3 percent per year.
This looks increasingly unlikely.
Last year, a paper in Nature co-authored by Sir David King, the UK government’s former chief scientific adviser and currently the government’s climate change envoy, concluded that a “tipping point” in the global oil supply had been reached since 2005, with global conventional production hitting a ceiling of around 75 million barrels per day (mbd) despite price increases of 15 percent a year.
That paper also noted that production at shale gas wells can drop 60 to 90 percent in the first year of operation.

And, of course, all that shit needs to stay in the ground for this planet to survive.
Maybe we’re at “peak life” and it’s Shitsville from here.

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