Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What if Peak Oil Died and Nobody Noticed?... and Other Energy Stories

A lot of hucksters are making a good living from peak oil doomerism. It has gotten to the point that it no longer matters whether peak oil has any intrinsic importance or not -- it is the symbolism of peak oil doom and devastation that matters. It is the catastrophic image inside the minds of the believers which drives the apocalyptic movement.

In the real world, things are not nearly so clear cut as in the mind of a cultist:
Apparently something terrible happens when we get to peak oil. I've never really quite understood the argument myself, but when we've used half of all the oil then civilisation collapses or something. I'm not sure why this should happen: we don't start starving when there's only half a loaf of bread left. But I am assured that something awful does happen.

That oil fields do get pumped out is obviously true – and also that you can have a good guess at when the ones we're currently pumping will run out. The part I don't get is the catastrophe. Some people seem to think that "peak oil" is when we can't actually pump out a higher amount: that if we've got 70 million barrels a day, then that's the most we can ever have, 70 million a day. Which is also called a disaster. Apparently this means that demand will move ahead of supply, which is simple sheer ignorance of the price system. There is no such thing as "supply" or "demand". There is only either of them at a price. So, if there really is a limit on how fast we can pump the stuff up, the price will rise.

Like it is at the moment. There's a lot more demand for $50-a-barrel oil than there is supply of it, which is why the price is $100 a barrel. It's true that if we really do reach some production plateau, then it's likely that the price will rise. But I still don't even see the catastrophe there. What with the taxes we pay, oil in the UK is around $300 per barrel at present. It is indeed a bit of a strain filling up the car, but other than that I don't see any more signs of the imminent collapse of civilisation than we normally have with politicians in charge.

Even if we accept the geological conventional wisdom, then there's still no cause for panic. Prices will rise, yes, so people will go off and do other things. Either use something else instead of oil (that ever cheaper shale gas for example) or simply doing things that require less energy. That's what a price system is for, after all, providing the signals that a certain resource is in scarce supply.

But the thing is, we really shouldn't be accepting this geology either.
The Green River Formation—an assemblage of over 1,000 feet of sedimentary rocks that lie beneath parts of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming—contains the world’s largest deposits of oil shale. USGS estimates that the Green River Formation contains about 3 trillion barrels of oil, and about half of this may be recoverable, depending on available technology and economic conditions. The Rand Corporation, a nonprofit research organization, estimates that 30 to 60 percent of the oil shale in the Green River Formation can be recovered. At the midpoint of this estimate, almost half of the 3 trillion barrels of oil would be recoverable. This is an amount about equal to the entire world’s proven oil reserves.
Yes, we do know how to get this out: these reserves are similar to the Bakken shale in North Dakota that is spurting out oil as you read. _Telegraph
The author of the piece -- like many others recently -- may be understating the challenges of clean and economical extraction of the Green River kerogen oil shales. But that may be because we are not even close to the point that we need to extract oil shale kerogens to use in place of crude oil.

The best tool for clean, economical extraction of oil shales, oil sands, and conversion of gas, coal, and biomass to liquid fuels -- is high temperature gas cooled nuclear reactors of the generation IV variety. Areva and other engineering firms are working on perfecting that gen IV reactor technology, and although it may take the US government another 10 to 20 years to approve and license the designs, that is just about the time that we will need to start cleanly converting oil shale kerogens to crude.

In other energy news, the African nation of Ghana is looking for ways that it can integrate nuclear power into its overall energy mix. Nigeria is another African nation that is pushing to develop its own nuclear power industry.

Intermittent unreliables such as big wind power, are finding it more difficult to get lucrative subsidies from governments. Perhaps it is the fact that intermittent unreliables such as big wind and big solar are so unreliable and expensive, which is causing some governments to step back from the abyss.

And yet, tech powerhouse Google persists in its green energy dreams. Is it possible that for all of its brainpower, Google has allowed political activists to grab control of its energy plans and blueprints? That might explain Google's green energy idiocy.

Does anyone have access to the medical records of climate hack James Hansen? His recent attacks against Canada show the friend of Al Gore to have jumped the shark, right over a cliff. When a person confuses a computer model for the actual climate, he no longer deserves to be called a scientist.

There is a difference between educating oneself and indulging in self-indoctrination into a doomsday cult. It may be too late for this generation of peak oil doomer cultists, but if we hurry we may be able to save at least some of the newer generations -- and turn them into truly competent, independent, and very dangerous children. Which is precisely what the future needs.

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Blogger Whirlwind22 said...

Im still paranoid and scared ****less about peak oil not matter what information I read.

10:46 AM  
Blogger al fin said...

I understand.

I knew a lovely intelligent woman who was afraid to kill a spider, lest the other spiders come out while she was sleeping and kill her.

When I was younger, I worked in a few different mental hospitals, where the number of intricate paranoid delusions I had to confront would have supplied a novelist with plots for decades.

In everyday life, paranoid delusions form an important part of the belief structures of even the most normal individuals. We don't refer to them as paranoid delusions as a rule, but there you are.

Sometimes we may not have a choice about the things we fear. But just in case a few readers are able to slip the surly bonds, it is worth hacking away.

11:51 AM  

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