(Courtesy of Colin Campbell)
The Association for the Study of Peak Oil has grown out of
research work by Colin Campbell and Jean Laherrère. Their
original paper appeared in the March 1998 issue of Scientific American,
and can be read online at: http://www.dieoff.org/page140.htm
The base case ASPO model is shown in the above chart.
Readers should do their own research (use links given below), but the
basic model has consistently estimated a peak in world oil production
about 2010. (The May 2008 update to the model moved the estimated peak
year forward to 2007 with a relative plateau out to 2010.) These
forecasts are of course subject to variations in the
world economy and possible Middle East disruptions due to war, etc. The
peak will not become apparent until after the downslide begins, but the
important part is that we are essentially at “The Peak”.
Tick, Tick, Tick...
The chart above shows ASPO’s first published
“Base Case” model as published in its May 2002 newsletter.
If you compare the two charts, there are two items of extreme
importance. First, over six years have passed as we approach
“The Peak”. Second, the estimated date of “The
Peak” has actually moved forward by a few years. Not only is the
clock ticking, it is ticking inward from both ends.
Editor of Petroleum Review
Megaprojects, a list of oil fields that are expected to
come on stream by 2013
The chart above shows the results of Chris
Skrebowski’s Megaprojects studies as of April 2006. The gray area
illustrates expected oil production from the world’s current (end
of 2005) oil fields. As existing fields deplete, their production rate
goes down. The colored areas show expected new production from the
world’s new megaprojects. These include all new oil projects that
are expected to produce 50,000 or more barrels of oil per day. For the
next couple of years increases in oil production from new projects will
be a little greater than declining production in old fields. (This net
increase in production is still less than what the world would like to
use.) After 2010, it’s all downhill.
The following are particularly useful websites for
Oil Depletion in the United States and the World http://rclsgi.eng.ohio-state.edu/~korpela/opmatalk.pdf
The Oil Depletion Analysis Center
Yahoo Energy Resources
Hubbert Peak Home
Oilcrisis home page (Similar to the above):
Oil depletion home
Dieoff Energy Synopsis - Lots of background and historical data
Ezboard Petroleum Postings:
(A new site and highly recommended)
Peak Oil News and
Also use the Google search engine and use search words such as:
Alternate sources of
hydrocarbon fuels and why most of them can't help.
While natural gas will probably last a few decades longer
than petroleum, it is not a long-term solution. On a short-term basis
there are large reserves in northern Alaska and the Mackenzie Delta of
Canada although a pipeline from these areas has yet to be built. There
is a lot of natural gas in Siberia and the Middle East, but there is
always the problem and expense of getting it to North America. The
following article is a little dated, but illustrates the problems that
are occurring today: http://hubbert.mines.edu/news/Riva_97-3.pdf
The large oil sands (formerly called tar sands) deposits
in Canada and Venezuela will see steadily increasing development over
the next two decades. The bitumen deposits can be processed to produce
hundreds of billions of barrels of crude oil. This in turn can be
refined into gasoline and other petroleum products. The downside is
that it requires large capital outlays to set up operations, and is
most efficient if used for long term development. As of early 2004 it
appears that there are about 300 billion barrels of petroleum that can
be recovered from the Canadian oil sands. This is more than the true
remaining reserves of Saudi Arabia and Iraq combined.
Up to now, all oil sands operations have used natural gas
as a heat source to process bitumen. It is probable that natural gas
will run into supply/cost problems a few years in the future, and there
has been some concern that this might pose a limit on future oil sands
operations. Fortunately, there are economical alternatives.
One, there are several methods where synthetic natural gas
or diesel fuel derived from bitumen could be used as a heat source.
Two, a new process called "Toe-to-Heel-Air-Injection"
(THAI) looks promising. THAI burns some of the bitumen underground with
the heat both loosening up and upgrading the remaining bitumen.
Three, the SAGD (Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage) method
for in situ (in site - deep underground) recovery looks like it will
benefit greatly by the addition of light hydrocarbons to the steam that
is injected via underground horizontal wells. The light hydrocarbons
help dissolve the bitumen thereby reducing its viscosity. This means
much less steam (heat) will be needed to loosen it up enough to allow
ordinary pumping to bring it up to the surface.
Finally, small nuclear reactors that can be used to
produce heat appear ideal for the job. Canada's proposed Advanced CANDU
Reactor (ACR) is one possibility. (See http://www.nuclearfaq.ca/cnf_sectionC.htm#oilsands
Pebble Bed Modular Reactors (PBMR) may be an even better source of heat.
Potential “De Facto” Nationalization of Oil
A worrisome long term problem was revealed on Oct. 25, 2007 when the
Alberta government announced that they intend to change the
royalty/taxation rules in the middle of the game. This decision is
sending the following message to the business community:
1) “If you take a risk and lose, it's your problem.”
2) “If you take a risk and win, we will change the rules and take
your winnings away from you.”
As Don Coxe pointed out in his Oct. 26, 2007 webcast, the Alberta
government has gone back on its word and Alberta is “no longer a
politically secure area”.
Hydrogen / Fuel Cells ("Fool Cells")
This is everyone's "favorite solution" to the gasoline
problem. Nice, clean, efficient hydrogen for fuel cells to power
automobiles. It is quite true that if you have an adequate supply of
hydrogen, you could use it instead of the present internal combustion
engine. There is a bit of a problem that everyone ignores. Where do you
get the hydrogen and how much will it cost?
Today hydrogen is produced by reacting methane gas and
steam yielding carbon monoxide and hydrogen. (The carbon monoxide also
reacts with steam yielding more hydrogen and carbon dioxide.) In terms
of useful energy, this is less efficient than just burning the methane.
As noted above, natural gas is going to be in short supply after a
couple of decades. Scratch natural gas as a source for hydrogen.
Perhaps nuclear or "renewable" based electric power can produce
hydrogen via electrolysis (or some other electric process), or some
biomass-based reaction can produce hydrogen sometime in the distant
future, but this is at best decades away - and very expensive.
A lengthy technical report titled "Energy and the Hydrogen
Economy" can be found at:
Their conclusion states, "Mankind cannot afford to waste energy for
idealistic goals, but economy will look for practical solutions and
select the most energy-saving procedures. The
'Pure-Hydrogen-Only-Solution' may never become reality." A follow-up
http://www.efcf.com/reports/hydrogen_economy.pdf comes to
the same conclusion.
Another excellent "White Paper" report on the fantasy of a
"Hydrogen Economy" is available at: http://www.tmgtech.com/pages/7/index.htm
It is recommended reading for anyone who would like to check out the
real facts involving hydrogen.
For a layman’s guide to why “The laws of
physics mean the hydrogen economy will always be an energy sink.”
please see “The Hydrogen Economy - Energy and Economic Black
A quote from the "Questions about a Hydrogen Economy"
article in the May 2004 issue of Scientific American. "Ultimately
hydrogen may not be the universal cure-all, although it may be
appropriate for certain applications. Transportation may not be one of
The March 2005 issue of Scientific American followed this
up with an 8 page analysis under the front cover heading
“Fuel-Cell Cars: The Future May Be Stuck in Neutral”.
In addition to being a highly flammable fuel, hydrogen
will diffuse through any storage material including your future
car’s fuel tank. It will accumulate in your garage if your car is
parked there. Subsequently, if you want to drive your “Hindenburg
Sedan”, you will press the garage door opener – and
possibly generate an electric spark in the process. You will succeed in
getting the garage door out of the way.
Summary for hydrogen:
Hydrogen is not an energy
source. Hydrogen is an energy sink. Oil that is extracted from the
ground is an energy source as the end product has more useful energy
than the energy required to extract and refine it. Hydrogen has to be
manufactured. The energy input to manufacture it will ALWAYS! be
greater than the energy available in the resulting hydrogen. This will
be true for any possible utilization of the hydrogen. (Note: The energy
input for any hydrogen manufacturing process has to include the
inherent energy component of the raw materials consumed by the process.
Any claim that states there is net energy production is a SCAM.)
"If we want more we just grow it". If you are an
influential senator from Kansas, Iowa, etc., you have no trouble
getting a pork barrel program for the voters back home. Actually, most
studies show that ethanol production has a negative energy return on
energy investment. See: http://hubbert.mines.edu/news/Pimentel_98-2.pdf
Even if future ethanol processing turns marginally
profitable, there isn’t enough land to grow what we need. The
following gal. vs. gal. calculation overly simplifies things, but it is
a useful ballpark estimate of what we would need.
The U. S. uses about 21 million barrels of oil per day,
times 42 gal. per barrel, times 365 days per year ~= 3.2E+11 gallons of
oil per year.
An acre of corn can produce about 140 bushels of corn
times 2.8 gals. of ethanol per bushel times 640 acres per square mile
~= 251,000 gals. of ethanol per square mile per year. (And we are
ignoring all the required energy input to do this.)
We would have to devote 3.2E+11 / 251,000 ~= 1.275 million
square miles of new farmland per year to grow corn to produce ethanol.
This is double the amount of land in the U. S. that is used to grow all
our present crops.
(Added 3/9/2007) The theoretical numbers for ethanol from switchgrass
(switch grass) are not any better. Even if bioengineering efforts can
come up with a microorganism that can readily break down cellulous into
starches/sugar there is little difference in the land requirement. An
acre of switchgrass can produce about 5 to 10 tons of biomass per year.
If these yet-to-be-bioengineered organisms can break this cellulous
down to 50 - 100 gallons of ethanol per ton, then the ethanol yield
would be about 500 gallons per acre - or about 320,000 gallons per
square mile. This is the same ballpark that we derived for corn based
ethanol. (End of 3/9/2007 addition)
Ethanol from sugar cane may be marginally energy net
positive. However, the glowing reports from Brazil should be taken with
“a bit” of skepticism as their ethanol production is highly
subsidized. Any palliative that involves hidden subsidization should be
closely examined before the “press releases” are accepted
at face value.
Little known fact: You get fewer miles per gallon from ethanol (and
ethanol blends) than you get from ordinary gasoline.
Shale "oil" is actually kerogen imbedded in organic
marlstone. Years ago stock promoters inserted the "oil" in the phrase,
as it is much easier to sucker "investors" if you tout "billions of
barrels of oil" vs. billions of barrels of organic marlstone. (And
there were a lot of suckers that are still waiting for a return on
"Oil Shale" has at best a break-even energy return on
energy investment. You might get 100 billion barrels of oil out of the
mountains, but you have to put 100 billion barrels of oil energy into
it to accomplish this. Net result - no energy product that you can sell
for a profit. On top of that, processing requires lots of water. Want
to be the volunteer that tells California, Nevada, and Arizona that we
are preempting the rest of their water supply?
In the late 1970's the major oil companies poured billions
into an effort to develop oil shale in northwestern Colorado. The
project was abandoned and the "company town" has been turned into a
retirement village (Battlement Mesa, CO). In late 2003, the Stuart Oil
Shale Project in Australia went belly up. Want to invest in the next
big oil shale project?
"Oil shale" is directly flammable. It is technically
possible to crush the ore and use it as fuel for an electric power
plant. While it is unlikely to ever be used to produce oil, it may have
some future use in the production of electricity.
For more on oil shale please see: http://hubbert.mines.edu/news/Youngquist_98-4.pdf
An Aug. 2005 article in World Oil
outlines Shell Oil’s
latest attempt to produce oil from
“oil shale”. The company claims that the oil
produced has 3.5
times the energy used to produce it. If this were true Shell would not
Government subsidy that it is asking for. Details at:
Renewable sources of energy
Outside of hydroelectric power, none of the renewable
sources of energy has the energy profit margin that cheap oil provides.
On top of that, most of them can't deliver power on demand when it is
needed. Perhaps the best of these renewable sources is wind energy to
produce electricity. Electricity from wind turbines is not reliable as
a "power on demand" source, but it may be useful for the production of
The Myth of "Renewable/Sustainable" Oil
Of late, there has been a widely circulated "urban myth"
that oil may be a renewable resource. This myth is based on the
hypothesis of the late Thomas Gold that oil has an abiotic (non
biologic) origin. The myth frequently cites the "refilling" of the
Eugene Island Field in the Gulf of Mexico.
In practice the Eugene Island Field is a complex of over
100 separate reservoirs - some of which are connected by faults. (See
the very technical article at http://www.searchanddiscovery.com/documents/97015/eugene.htm
In the past, oil and gas have been pumped out of some of these
reservoirs, thus reducing their internal pressure. Nearby reservoirs
that had not been tapped yet still had their original pressure. Oil and
gas subsequently flowed along the fault zones from the untapped
high-pressure zones into these produced areas that now had a lower
pressure. This "refilling" is the source of the myth about "renewable"
oil. Jean Laherrère has a short analysis of the Eugene Island
Field on page 14 of his Zurich presentation the "Future of oil
His conclusion for the "abiotic renewal" of oil is: "It is really
In Sweden a well was drilled 4 miles deep in search of
"abiotic" oil. It turned out to be one of the world's deepest "Wild
goose chases". Dale Ffeiffer has concluded: "The proposed proofs of
evidence of abiogenic origin in the Dnieper-Donets basin and in
refilling fields are dismissed in front of real data."(See: http://www.911-strike.com/pfeiffer.htm
Richard Heinberg (author of “The Party’s Over”) has
also debunked the abiotic oil myth. (http://www.energybulletin.net/2423.html
Further, one of the technical presentations at the AAPG
Conference at Calgary, Alberta, Canada June 18, 2005, Calgary states:
“Present-day analysis of petroleum systems, when performed
integrated with direct geochemistry, remote sense and high resolution
geochemistry technology (HRGT), can provide irrefutable proof that
99.99999% of all the oil and gas accumulations found up to know in the
planet earth have a biologic origin.” http://www.searchanddiscovery.net/documents/abstracts/2005research_calgary/abstracts/extended/mello/mello.htm
Finally, let's assume full credibility for "renewable oil"
by assuming that the earth's 2 trillion barrels of oil (total
discoveries) had an abiotic origin and have accumulated over the 4
billion years that the earth has had its present crust. This yields an
accumulation/renewal rate of 500 barrels per year. We are currently
using oil at 80+ million barrels per day. The "renewal rate" wouldn't
be of much help.
Creationism and Abiotic Oil
Ignorance of geology seems to be a common trait shared by
both Young Earth Creationists and believers in “Abiotic
oil”. Misguided faith in general (including faith in Abiotic oil)
is covered on the Creationism
= Willful Ignorance
and other pages. The “Abiotic oil”
people believe that somehow the earth will supply an infinite amount of
oil. They believe that “the earth” will provide. You can
substitute the words “God” and/or “the Intelligent
Designer” for “the earth”. Both the Abiotic oil
believers and the Creationists illustrate a faith that has no basis in
Nuclear - Fission
Nuclear power plants are one possible source to generate
electricity that could be used to produce hydrogen for fuel cells.
However, hydrogen is a poor choice if you are going to manufacture a
synthetic fuel. A far better choice would be to manufacture a fuel that
is a liquid at ordinary temperatures. In this regard ethanol and
methanol can be distributed and stored easily. This is still far more
expensive than current petroleum fuels for transportation, but at least
it is feasible.
At one time it looked like there may not be enough uranium
for large-scale nuclear production of electricity. However, newer
reactor designs plus the possibility of using thorium for fuel appear
to have solved this problem. There is widespread aversion to using
nuclear reactors - especially in the United States. However, the choice
appears to narrow down to: Either use nuclear or
freeze in the dark.
Nuclear - Fusion
For decades there have been attempts to harness the power
of the sun. The object is to force hydrogen isotopes to fuse into
helium with vast amounts of energy released in the process. (The
Deuterium - Tritium reaction is "easiest") One method that has been
attempted is to squeeze a hydrogen plasma in a magnetic bottle; and
hold it together long enough, hot enough, and with a high enough
density until you get more energy out of it then you put in. Lithium
would also be part of the containment mechanism to help breed more
tritium. The other method is to use high-energy lasers to hit a small
pellet of hydrogen to produce the necessary heating and compression.
There is no sign that either method will produce success for decades to
If the methane hydrates on the ocean floor could be
economically retrieved, there would not be a looming energy crisis. The
available energy is staggering - many times larger than all known oil
and gas fields. Unfortunately, the ice-like hydrates are not stable at
ordinary pressures and temperatures. To mine them would require a strip
mine operation that could dig up the ocean floor, get rid of everything
except the methane, and store the methane in a large pressurized
container. All of this would have to be done by remote control at the
bottom of the ocean. The technology to do this hasn't been invented
yet. (However, Japan is doing some meaningful research.)
Methane hydrates also exist in artic areas. Research has
been conducted in several areas including the McKenzie Delta of
northern Canada. There has been no conclusion to date as to whether
these deposits can ever be used commercially.
Added 6/28/04: In the last few years, estimates of world
resources for methane hydrates (both oceanic and arctic) have been
drastically reduced. There still is no known method to economically
recover these reduced estimates.
At last, an alternative even if it's expensive. It is
possible to make synthetic gasoline and even hydrogen from coal.
Germany made synthetic gasoline in World War II. Using coal will have a
major adverse effect on the environment, but it may be the only
alternative. It will also let us run our good old internal combustion
engines for a few more decades. There are many sources of information
for coal to gasoline conversion, but the following is an introduction:
China is tentatively planning to build two coal to liquid
conversion plants costing $3 billion each using technology from South
Comments from Lee
Raymond's (CEO of Exxon Mobil) interview
on Charlie Rose (PBS)
Solar energy is not a viable
replacement. He made the comment that it would take 84 square miles of
solar panels to replace the energy that a single gas station sells on a
single day. It would take solar panels covering all of New Jersey to
replace the energy dispensed by just 100 gas stations in a single day.
Exxon has 3,000 gas stations in the US and only has 13% of the market,
and in his words "Do the math" nothing else is feasible to replace oil
as an energy source!
The “Head in the
(Added late Nov. 2006)
Everyone wants to believe that we can continue to grow our
economy forever. No one wants to believe that the party will end. There
are “paid shills” that cater to our “need to
believe” that the party can continue forever.
One of the most vociferous of these shills is CERA -
Cambridge Energy Research Associates. They produce “Don’t
Worry - Be Happy” reports that distort and misrepresent reality
to tell us what we want to hear, instead of what we should learn.
In Nov. 2006 CERA produced a report titled “Why the
Peak Oil Theory Falls Down: Myths, Legends, and the Future of Oil
Resources”. It may take a year or two before additional energy
price increases will prove how misguided CERA is, but you might want to
keep track of their latest attempt at “disinformation” for
future reference. It is a case study in our “need to
believe” - as opposed to facing reality.
In a November 2004 column in Forbes Magazine, Daniel
Yergin (co-founder of CERA) predicted that oil prices would drop to $38
per barrel by November of 2005. (The average price of oil in Nov. 2004
was $48.84 and $58.81 in Nov. 2005) It is interesting how many people
want to believe a proven loser simply because they still have their
“need to believe”.
“Stop sweating over oil, Yergin
told a group of CEOs at a Forbes conference last fall. Oil will slide
to $40 a barrel sometime in 2005.”
“Wrong numbers, says Daniel
Yergin. Wrong direction, too. Try $38. Yergin knows oil.”
Forbes Nov. 1, 2004 http://www.forbes.com/technology/free_forbes/2004/1101/041.html
But the cornucopian economists still have a “need to
Our industrial world has become dependant on fossil fuels.
In particular we, and especially the United States, have become
addicted to using large amounts of oil. If an individual becomes
addicted to heroin, and if the only way to satisfy this addiction is to
kill and steal, then he will kill and steal for a heroin fix. If
countries are addicted to oil and the only way to obtain a large but
temporary supply is to wage war to steal the other guy's supply, then
such countries will attack others in order to obtain one more fix. At
first the winning country will obtain its fix, but in turn it will
disintegrate internally as factions form to fight over the last scraps.
This is the long-term prospect for humanity.
For a grim view of the magnitude of the upcoming problem
please see: "Eating Fossil Foods" by Dale Allen Pfeiffer at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/energyresources/message/42571
"…conditions will deteriorate so
badly that the surviving human population would be a negligible
fraction of the present population. And those survivors would suffer
from the trauma of living through the death of their civilization,
their neighbors, their friends and their families. Those survivors will
have seen their world crushed into nothing."
In the early 1970's, the book "The Limits to Growth"
warned us of the approaching population problem, and advised us that we
should use "our intelligence" to prevent a disaster. We have done
nothing. It is now too late. Starting before 2020 and continuing
through most of the current century, Mother Nature will cut the earth's
population to one half (or less) of its current value.
Mother Nature's deputies are the Four Horsemen of the
Specifically these are: War, Pestilence, Famine, and Death.
Also: Please see The
Oil Crunch and The End of Growth
and “Less Than 2 Baseball Parks per Capita
Return to Durango Bill's Home Page
Web page generated via KompoZer