Saturday, July 14, 2012

Some People Are Serious About Peak Oil

Among those who warn about energy shortages and peak oil, there are a few who present their ideas in a particularly clear and logical manner. These are serious people who are serious about peak oil, and they deserve to be taken seriously.

Let's look first at Robert Rapier, chemical engineer and respected energy writer, book author, and columnist. Robert predicts the peak of world liquid fuels (as reported by EIA) production within the next 5 years, at about 90 mmbpd.

This prediction contrasts sharply with predictions from a recent Harvard Belfer Center report, which predicts liquids production in the year 2020 at 110 mmbpd.

Another generally respected peak oiler, Robert Hirsch, is predicting the onset of a significant decline in oil production within the next 4 years. This prediction is not based upon expectation of "peak demand," but instead anticipates peak production in the face of rising demand.

Both Hirsch and Rapier understand the potential importance of oil substitutes, such as CTL, GTL, bitumens, and other alternative liquids -- as well as the importance of enhanced oil recovery and increased efficiency of energy use. But they simply feel that these alternatives, substitutes, and mitigators are not likely to compensate for a shortfall in production.

Finally, we should look at blogger and peak oiler Fabius Maximus, who has been quite careful over the years in his analysis of the prospects of peak oil. In a recent article: A look at forecasts for peak oil – and the end of civilization, FM considers the prospects for a near term peak in oil production which might bring on the end of civilisation. FM recommends caution in predicting a peak:
First, there is insufficient publicly available information to forecast peaking with reasonable reliability. Data about the oil fields of many nations with large reserves is either sketchy & old (ie, Iraq) or secret (eg, Russia and most in the Middle East).

And there are too many variables: economic growth, expenditures on projects to increase both supply and efficiency, and technology (eg, as fracking disproved the many confident forecasts of an imminent “cliff-like” crash in North American natural gas production.

Which is why forecasts for peaking range from now through 2020 — and beyond.

Prices are set by the cost of marginal sources. As we tap lower grade (in a broad sense) sources, the marginal price rises over time — offset by improved technology (reducing cost to find, extract, and refine). (last paragraph -- FM in comments) _FabiusMaximus on Peak Oil

FM goes on to explain that the quantity of low grade hydrocarbons is much higher than the quantity of high grade hydrocarbons -- which are nowhere near being depleted, since year on year reserves continue to grow.

FM and Robert Rapier are given particular respect as bloggers because they take the time and effort to logically reply to arguments raised by reader's comments. As peak oilers, they tend to stand out in that regard.

So of the three analysts above, two predict peak "all liquids" production in the face of rising demand, within the next 5 years. FM is the lone holdout, recommending caution when prognosticating.

On the issue of EROEI -- energy recovered from energy invested -- both Rapier and FM have stated that EROEI is granted much too much importance, particularly among peak oil doomers. As long as cheap energy can be used to produce more highly valued energy, the EROEI question is not being properly framed for a market economy.

And in that regard, there is likely to be an over-abundance of extremely cheap energy in the form of "process heat" from advanced nuclear reactors within the next 10 years. This deluge of high quality, high temperature process heat from scalable -- even portable -- advanced nuclear reactors, is likely to set EROEI so far back on its heels that it is unlikely to ever recover.

Among the doomers, none are considered serious enough to be taken seriously. The top doomers tend to be rent-seekers and opportunists who see a good scam, and are willing to ride it as far as it will take them. Fortunately for them, there is no shortage of suckers in the world.

As for people like Michael Lynch, Leonardo Maugeri, Vaclav Smil, Daniel Yergin, Robin Mills, and the dozens of other analysts, scholars, engineers, writers, and energy experts who feel that peak oil is not likely to be a problem -- they are all peak oilers at heart. They will all admit the trivial truism that "the earth is a finite planet, with finite resources."

The only difference between them and the doomers is that they are willing to look more deeply and dispassionately at the details, where the devil of the problem resides.

Al Fin was once something of a superficial peak oil doomer, as well as someone who dabbled in greenhouse gas global warming. But time and study in depth can reveal complexities which remain hidden to the emotionally bound cultist, permanently confirmed within his "one true belief."

Robert Hirsch expects significant hardship from peak oil before 2020. Robert Rapier expects the issue of peak oil to take on much greater importance before 2020, but suggests that the level of associated hardship depends upon political factors. Fabius Maximus seems to suggest that any hardship between now and 2020 will owe infinitely more to political stumblings than to a shortage of energy supplies. Three serious peak oilers, with somewhat diverging expectations.

We are living through exciting times, somewhat dampened and depressed by incompetent political leadership, biased media, and an indoctrinating -- rather than an educating -- academia. Still, it is best to keep one's eyes open. Things can still change quickly, despite the uber-stasist effect of a culture that is incompetent from the top downward.



Blogger Benjamin Cole said...

Actually, Rapier recently posted he expects fossil fuel prices to be soft for next five years, as new supplies come online.

Oxy says they are hitting shale oil in CA at $2 million per well, and netting $12 million in year one. And California has huge oil shale deposits.

You can buy a car today that will go 50 mpg, or even more (the much-maligned but still important Volt).

Energy is not our problem, A pro-growth monetary policy is needed.

7:38 PM  

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