The One-Month Pregnancy

There is a growing realization that we are heading into troubled water, and that this time we won't have the oil to pour on it (sorry, couldn't resist). The recent Federal Energy Information Administration report that the supply will be short 700,000 barrrels a day, due to the Chinese increase in flow to their strategic reserve, suggests that the crisis will indeed become dramatically evident during the fourth quarter of this year.

There are a number of suggestions that can be made as to ways the extra demand might be met, and how new technologies may be developed to spring into the breach. There is also the fallback positions that either "The Government knows all about this and will take care of it," or "where there is a need technology always finds an answer.'

My usual response to the latter is that you can't have a baby in a month by making nine women pregnant. Technological innovation takes time, and the introduction of new answers must be validated through steps that are each of significant temporal length.

I remember Dixie Lee Ray being asked about this during the last crisis and she pointed out that even if that miraculous silver bullet technology (the candidate at the time may have been cold fusion) had already been validated in a test tube in some laboratory, that it would take over 20 years before it would have any significant impact on US energy supply. The reason is that initial experiments have to be validated, then designed for, and approved at a larger - bench scale, and run at that scale, and then the process must be repeated at a prototype scale with permits being obtained and construction approved, and funding found, and then again the proces smust be run for some time to ensure it works at that level. Then an initial pilot plant must be developed through the same process, and then the first full-scale plant. If each of those processes takes a finite number of years, you may understand how quickly she reached the 20-year time to significant impact.

So here we are with an evident crisis coming, and a global economy that is totally oriented around oil. Yes we can mix 5-micron coal with water and run diesel engines, but we don't have that many diesels and we don't have any cheap way to grind the coal that small. So we need to be a little realistic about looking at what options are available. And the options are either find better ways of getting the oil that we are leaving in the ground out, or destroy demand by increasing the price until less of the world can afford it. Without a large effort to immediately find ways to achieve the former (remembering that a lot of the experts who looked at things like oil shale in the past are now retired, in other work or dead) we are going to be left with the second choice. And by default, given that the crisis is about to arrive by the Governments own reports, it looks as though the decision has been made for us. So the next question is one we have posed before, how much will you have to pay for gas before you start to seriously cut back on your driving, and what will you give up to cover that cost?

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Is there any realistic chance that a new technology can be developed that can do what you said? I'm speaking as a chemical engineer, and I would have thought that if it existed, it would have been found by now.

It may be possible, breakthroughs do occur in technology that can change their effectiveness and impact. However it would be foolish to predict when or if that might occur, and in what sector of the industry. I am not sure that I could make any confident predictions at this time.

Peak oil is real and is a very serious concern, but don't get carried away with that 700,000 shortfall number. Go to, download the files for monthly worldwide oil production (t24.xls and t14.xls) and consumption, and you'll see that end of year deficits are normal. In 4Q2004 there was a shortfall of about 1mb/d, and in 4Q2003 it was not quite 600,000b/d.

Congrats, you made the big time. Majority Report Radio picked up your blog as "blog of the week". I tried to capture their comments here:

wow, that's just awesome. thanks for the heads up, mob.

(sad part is, I usually am listening to Janeane and Sam this time of night, and the one night I'm not, I miss something like this!)

When there is talk of increasing gas prices, why do people only consider driving costs? When oil prices go up, the price of almost anything, from bread to basket ball, from orange juice to sports shoes will increase. There might be widespread famine in many developing countries. The survival of millions of people will be endangered. I am from a developing country (also known as an "emerging market") that is wholly dependent on imported oil. I am also old enough to remember the 70s and early 80s. At that time, if oil prices went up one day, within a week, all prices would follow suit. It was very critical to predict a price increase, because if you got caught with an empty fuel tank, it really hurt. It was very profitable to keep the goods off the shelves when expectations were high for another round of price hike. Economy stagnated, inflation soared, and unemployment became widespread. It was really bad, and I fear that this time, it will be much worse.

From Perry's Chemical Engineering handbook

Average Energy Consumption Rate in Process Industries

Glass containers 12.0
Cement 7.0
Lime 6.3
Steel 24.0
Copper 40.2
Structural clay 4.9
Plastic products 20.6

(MMBTU/ton of product)

Be very afraid.

And what does the Bush admin plan to do? Massively subsidize the record profits of the energy companies and do jackshit for conservation and technology development. America is getting what it deserves- sadly.


CO and Tim: oh yeah, petroleum is is the economy...then think about transportation of food, water, etc., etc. talk about a mindfuck...

JS: um, yeah...that just about sums it up. *sigh*

just take a look at the "energy bill" (aka the "biggest piece of shit ever") demonstrates very little cognizance of any of these problems...

as I said a couple of posts prior to this: the policy solution to all of this is to slap a $1/gal gas tax on, kill demand, and then fix this crap!

(it'll be a cold day in hell before that happens, but one can hope...)

Try calling in sometime. I know Janeane hates to talk to ordinary callers, but you won't be ordinary anymore!

OK, I've been a big fan of your website since I found out about it 3 weeks ago. I've been sufficiently scared about all of the dire predictions that I've read, and the research that you've presented. Can I make a suggestion?

How about having some guest bloggers, one's that can talk about steps to move us forward from where we are now. There must be some very brilliant people out there that are involved in urban planning & renewable resources, and and other grass roots people out there that are pushing for more public transportation, sustainable development, etc.

You research is great, and your site deserves much more exposure. But somedays my glass is half full, and I'd like to hear some positive news. Or at least some positive ideas... Shit, I am thinking about bringing kids into this world soon.