Sunday, September 18, 2011

Peak Oil: One Man's Nightmare, Now a Mass Delusion

Hubbert was very pessimistic about future supply. He warned that the era of oil would be only a brief blip in mankind's history. In 1978, he predicted that children born in 1965 would see all of the world's oil used up in their lifetimes. Humanity, he said, was about to embark upon "a period of non-growth." _WSJ
Marion King Hubbert was a technocrat among technocrats. Technocrats such as Hubbert believed that their rightful place was at the top, in control of all society. In their own minds, they were the only ones who could manage the finite, steady-state world of no-growth which they imagined inside their own minds.
...Technocracy promoted the idea that democracy was a sham and that scientists and engineers should take overthe reins of government and impose rationality on the economy. "I had a boxseat at the Depression," Hubbert later said. "We had manpower and raw materials. Yet we shut the country down."

Technocracy envisioned a no-growth society and the elimination of the price system, to be replaced by the wise administration of the Technocrats. Hubbert believed that a "pecuniary" system, guided by the "hieroglyphics" of economists, was the road to ruin. _WSJ
It is not difficult to perceive the quasi-religious nature of technocratic ideas. And although the underlying ideas have morphed into a different shape, under different names, the religious undertones of technocracy have survived and intensified into the present.
"Hubbert was imaginative and innovative," recalled Peter Rose, who was Hubbert's boss at the U.S. Geological Survey. But he had "no concept of technological change, economics or how new resource plays evolve. It was a very static view of the world." Hubbert also assumed that there could be an accurate estimate of ultimately recoverable resources, when in fact it is a constantly moving target. _WSJ
It is as if Hubbert the technocrat could not see inside himself to the emotional and intuitive core of his own nature, because this tender core was so intently armoured and papered over with unwittingly arbitrary and self-serving mathematical and technological ideas.

Hubbert did not understand the intensely economic and political nature of oil reserves and oil production -- and so neither do his followers who persist in reliving Hubbert's nightmare, night after night.
Estimates for the total global stock of oil keep growing. The world has produced about one trillion barrels of oil since the start of the industry in the 19th century. Currently, it is thought that there are at least five trillion barrels of petroleum resources in the ground, of which 1.4 trillion are deemed technically and economically accessible enough to count as reserves (proved and probable).

Based on current and prospective plans, it appears that the world's production capacity for "oil and related liquids" (in industry jargon) should grow from about 92 million barrels per day in 2010 to over 110 million by 2030. That is an increase of about 20%.

But this is no done deal. There are many "buts," having to do with what happens above ground. The policies of governments around the world—especially concerning taxes and access to resources—have a major impact on whether and when oil is discovered and developed.

Wars and civil wars, social turmoil and political upheavals, regional conflict, corruption and crime, mismanagement of resources—all of these can affect not only current production but also investment and future prospects. Environmental and climate policies can alter the timing and scale of development, as can geopolitics and politics within oil-producing countries.

In short, in a world whose $65 trillion economy depends greatly on oil, energy security will be a lasting and critical preoccupation.

Meeting future demand will require innovation, investment and the development of more challenging resources. A major reason for continuing growth in petroleum supplies is that oil previously regarded as inaccessible or uneconomical is now part of the mix, such as the "presalt" resources off the coast of Brazil, the vast oil sands of Canada, and the oil locked in shale and other rocks in the U.S.

In 2003, the Bakken formation in North Dakota was producing a mere 10,000 barrels a day. Today, it is over 400,000 barrels, and North Dakota has become the fourth-largest oil-producing state in the country. Such "tight" oil could add as much as two million barrels a day to U.S. oil production after 2020—something that would not have been in any forecast five years ago.

Overall U.S. oil production has increased more than 10% since 2008. Net oil imports reached a high point of 60% in 2005, but today, thanks to increased production and greater energy efficiency (plus the use of ethanol), imports are down to 47%. _WSJ
If there is a profit to be made somehow, via trade, entrepreneurs and their hired scientists and engineers will move heaven and earth to do what is necessary to reap the profit. But since the fire that drives entrepreneurs is so utterly alien to the hearts of doomers and pessimists, they cannot understand how the future can turn out differently than their own visions and nightmares of doom.

Wars, political and environmental prohibitions, and financial cycles of collapse can disrupt supply and demand for the energy industry -- and certainly will in the future. Yet the quantity of hydrocarbon in the Earth is far larger than humans can understand, because they cannot see into every nook and cranny in the Earth's crust -- nor can they comprehend the dynamic forces occurring within the Earth's mantle.

Peak oil doom is a nightmare born of ignorance and lack of imagination and insight. It did not began with Hubbert, although Hubbert gave it depth, heft, and breadth. It has grown into a mass delusion that has generated its own clashing dogmas, its own cyclic economies. Think of it as a diverting sideshow in the larger theatre of life.



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