Friday, March 30, 2012

Enough Oil for Decades, If Not Centuries

Rather than running out of oil and/or gas any time soon, I think the bigger danger is that we have more than enough oil and other fossil fuel energy resources to sustain us for quite a few decades if not centuries. Any efficiency and/or conservation of energy, combined with some replacement of fossil fuel energy with renewables than these finite resources, will extend hydrocarbon resources quite a few additional decades. _George Wuerthner, Ecologist
When M. King Hubbert offered his simplistic analysis of regional and global oil depletion back in the 1950s and 1960s, most people didn't know any better. Bestselling books such as "Silent Spring" and "The Population Bomb" were predicting the near-term collapse of the global ecosystem and global civilisation. According to those now-or-soon-to-be decomposing prophets of doom, we shouldn't even be here discussing the topic of our future. And yet, here we are.

The modern doom-equivalents of Rachel Carson and King Hubbert are warning of global collapse of civilisation and the ecosystem, due to peak oil and / or carbon hysteria / climate change. Some things never change, particularly the attraction of humans to doom and predictions of doom.

But why was Hubbert wrong, and why are his modern-day disciples just as wrong?
The problem for anyone trying to predict future resource availability is discerning the initial starting amount of a resource such as oil when one cannot readily see or gauge accurately the resource. This lack of transparency presents huge opportunities for error, in particular, erring on the side of under estimation of the total resource. And time has consistently shown that under estimation of total resource is the most common error, and as we shall see this is exactly the error that Hubbert made with regards to his estimates of our remaining oil and gas reserves. Hubbert can be forgiven because new technology can make previously unavailable resources accessible, even less expensive to exploit. In fact, he even anticipated this to a degree in his paper, another point that Hubbert’s admirers today tend to overlook.

...Hubbert grossly underestimated total oil supplies, and thus his predicted high point of the bell curve deviates significantly from reality. Indeed, there is good evidence we haven’t even reached the top of the bell curve, much less past it in 1970.

...Predicting future oil and gas supplies is fraught with dangers. Many factors influence oil extraction other than geological limits. A rapid shift to renewable energy, a decline in global economies, new technological innovation, energy conservation, a high oil price that dampens consumer demand, political instability and wars all significantly affects energy production, thus when and how “peak” is achieved. Many believe a more realistic model rather than a bell curve is a rapid run up in production to a spike or series of spikes followed by a long drawn out plateau and production decline with ultimately more oil production occurring after the apparent peak, but less rapidly than prior to the “peak” which of course wouldn’t really be a peak in the traditional sense of the word.

...Hubbert estimated that the “ultimate potential reserve of 150 billion barrels of crude oil for both the land and offshore areas of the United States.” Hubbert’s estimate was based on the crude oil “initially present which are producible by methods now in use.” Using the 150 billion barrel estimate he predicted US Peak Oil occurring in 1965. But to be cautious, he also used a slightly higher figure of 200 billion barrels which produced a peak in oil production around 1970—the figure that Hubbert advocates like to use to demonstrate that Hubbert was prophetic in his predictions. However, by 2006 the Department of Energy estimated that domestic oil resources still in the ground (in-place) total 1,124 billion barrels. Of this large in-place resource, 400 billon barrels is estimated to be technically recoverable with current technology.

...Obviously if Hubbert were correct, and we had reached Peak Oil in 1970 (point where we had consumed half of our oil) and we started out with only 200 billion, we could not have nearly 200-400 billion still left to extract—and total resources are likely even higher than this figure.

It’s also important to keep in mind that “technologically recoverable” resources are not the “total” amount of oil thought to exist in the US, so the total in-place reserves are much, much larger. It does not take a lot of imagination to predict that many of these oil resources will eventually be unlocked with new technological innovation thus added to the total “proven reserves.” _Counterpunch
Read the entire piece, for a better understanding of the author's claims that planet Earth has at least several decades of oil remaining.

Everything in the piece above has been published here at Al Fin Energy at one time or another. But the Counterpunch article is a good refresher piece, counter-acting much of the daily drone of doom coming from peak oil cathedrals and seminaries.

What attracts otherwise normal people to these religions of doom and catastrophe? You may as well ask what attracts otherwise normal people to smoking, excess drinking, or overeating. Humans are just barely advanced apes. Capable of language and rudimentary reasoning but generally not capable of overcoming innate weaknesses and counterproductive instincts.

Doomers will feed relentlessly on doom, at the cost of problems that might have been solved, and essentials that might have been produced. The rest of us have work to do.



Blogger Jonathan K said...

If the US really has 400 billion barrels of recoverable oil, why are we only producing 2 billion a year? Sure, restrictions on the development of federal land play a part but this doesn't begin to explain the wide divergence.

I think the explanation is simple: technical recoverability is not the same thing as economic recoverability. Most of that 400 billion is from secondary and tertiary recovery. Co2 flooding could really move the needle, but it is only happening on a small scale. Obviously, even at $100 oil, it just doesn't make economic sense. Maybe $150? $200? $300? So in the economic sense, we really are will likely to continue to experience oil scarcity.

9:36 PM  
Blogger warpmine said...

Jonathan K: oil production has been severely hampered due to political hacks occupying the WH and Congress.

If the government didn't make it so difficult to proceed with drilling at every step, the minimal pricing you mention wouldn't even be that high.

All our energy ills are caused by the government and the people, at the risk of their own peril, are just to ignorant to realize this.

The proof is in the pudding, look how dumb they've become by being complacent to what's been going on these last three decades. Obama and his cronies are the worst government this country has ever elected.

8:00 AM  
Blogger Reaper said...

Currently our dependence on a single source of energy is causing great problems and hanging our economy on a knife edge. We should be getting secure and sustainable energy from wherever we can and not having our business and lives depend on foreign sources of oil.

3:50 AM  

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