Even OPEC admits there's a problem

There is not a lot of joy in seeing it confirmed that we are right. The Algerian oil minister has now commented that OPEC will be unable to meet demand by the fourth quarter of this year. The growth can only be met if countries have put aside adequate stockpiles ahead of time. (From The Gulf Times via the Energy Bulletin)

In this regard, Howard Kurtz column today in the Washington Post, where he points out the trivialities that fill the front pages of our press and television, is, in the circumstances, remarkably appropriate.
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George Ure over at urbansurvival.com has an interesting blip today under "Oil up, pumps at limit" where he makes some connections that I consider astute and worthy of a read...


Reminds me of the story of the Titanic with the band continuing to play and the stewards re-arranging the deck chairs, while the unsinkable ship slowly descended to the depths of the cold, dark Atlantic ocean.

The fossil fuel dependent world is the new Titanic. While only 1,522 lives were lost on the 14th of April 1912, it is quite possible that billions of lives will be lost over the next five decades as the planet slides down the right side of the peak oil curve.

And the energy guzzling bands play on. I do expect, however, that the MSM (main stream media, eg. WaPo and Howard Kurtz) will pick up on this story gradually as the dangers become evident. I do also expect that it will be too late to do much about the situation, unfortunately.

The world will find replacements for fossil fuel energy (many more nukes for electricty and hydrogen as an energy carrier for transportation), but the costs will be off the charts. These extreme costs for energy will leave little or nothing to support third world countries, and the poor everywhere will take the brunt of the blow from the coming energy crisis.

Dilbert -

What about the "newly minted poor" that will be on the rise when our economy inevitably tips from the weight of debt and energy? I can foresee, as others have, a new class of suburban poor and homeless here in this country.

And hydrogen will not do it - it is a net energy loss to make it unless you use solar or nuclear, which are decades away from doing anything but powering the electrical grid. IMHO, of course...

I hope you are right and they pick up the real story. But I think that climate change may just steal the show if the Atlantic conveyor is really moving south.

One refinery outage has sparked a further run-up in the price of crude: Oil prices leap, outage adds to fears.

Well, this is a cool beans kind of thing for the site - thanks Roy!

Belle Chasse refinery got shut down by ......

electrical power outage...

J, I agree that the civilized world will face the same issues as the third world, and the poor and middle classes will surely suffer, and many will die prematurely, because food=energy and food is bound to become increasingly expensive.

As for 'hydrogen will not do it' because of the net energy loss, this doesn't mean that hydrogen will not be useful. My view is that it is the likely replacement for oil based fuels, inspite of the energy loss to compress, liquify, store and burn. If the grid is ramped up multi-fold (using nukes or coal), then hydrogen can readily be produced from the excess grid capacity via electrolysis of water(at a very high cost, mind you).

I think people will get over their NIMBY concerns once the reality of peak oil sets in. The MSM may be a little more focused at that time.

Gods but that would be a welcome change (nimbyism and MSM).

And thx for clarifying your position re hydrogen. I agree completely. The only other thing that comes to mind is storing potential energy as air pressure. If one has to build a pressure vessel for hydrogen, why couldn't one compress air in the same for local driving and use it to run a reciprocating engine?

Electric companies are planning on using this technology already, pumping air into salt domes under presure, and then using the same pressure to run their turbines.

But can we leave out coal without very thorough stack scrubbing? The Atlantic conveyor is already slowing...

I have seen plans for a nuclear powered train, and I think that for long hauls it would be very cost effective. You should see the potential power...miles of cars possible...

Electric for the neighborhood can work - I'd be driving a golf cart to the store if the DMV would let me. Right now, they ticket you for doing so - go figure.

Throughout human history, most people were poor. Prior to the age of fossil fuels, new machines were being fashioned by engineers, freed from dogma by the Enlightenment and Protestant Revolution, that enhanced human, animal, and natural power (wind and water). As fossil fuels dwindle, it should be possible to ease the slide down the hill from peak (the nursury rhyme Jack and Jill went up the hill suddenly gains added meaning) provided the correct choices are made regarding the types of technology employed. These technologies MUST provide the best net energy profit--EROEI--because they must endure for millenia, not just to the end of the current financial or election cycle. As such, we need the healthy participatory democracy we don't have (what we do have is a form of Polyarchy), because as things stand now, all the wrong choices will be made to satisfy the short term goals of the corporate/financial world since they are beholden--as is the MSM--to the religion of endless economic growth to solve all problems. Think, will a nuclear powered, hydrogen economy be sustainable for millenia? The answer is a resounding no.

Does anyone have anymore info on that urbansurvival post about the possibility of Russia and Iran planning to trade oil for Euros? And how that would affect the dollar and the American economy?

A continually weakening dollar attempting to purchase oil sold in Euros would add a horrible additional wrinkle to the shortage problem, no?

OK, I'm buying the evidence that oil may peak in the 2005-2008 time range, and it's going to get awfully expensive on the downhill side. But I'm not buying the more extreme panic.

First of all, we have options with food. America's agricultural system uses oil for fertilizers, pesticides and transportation. The fertilizer and pesticide use can be cut dramatically by switching to IPM and/or organic farming. You still need mineral sands and organic matter, but you can get decent yields.

Food transportation can be simplified tremendously--the average food product travels something like 1,500 miles, which we could sharply reduce by bringing back farming on the eastern seaboard. (Actually, the major reason eastern farming died was federally-subsidized water for the west.)

A large percentage of my food is grown locally in New England, on small organic farms, for tolerably low cost--at worst, perhaps twice the going rate. Economies of scale could reduce these prices. Yeah, we'd have to clear-cut the northeast again, with implications for global warming, but we could do it.

Similarly, grid power will remain cheap until we run out of coal. And we've got way more coal than is good for us, something on the order of 200 years at current rates of consumption.

The real pain will occur with the automobile. And even there, we have a few options--public transportation, shorter-range electric cars, smaller or lighter car bodies, and possibly a technical breakthrough in energy storage (I'm kind of fond of flywheels, if anybody ever starts serious R&D on them again.)

Yeah, we'll have to help the poor and rebuild parts of our society. But nobody's made the case to me that expensive gas and jet fuel will, by themselves, bring down western civilization for good.

-And we've got way more coal than is good for us, something on the order of 200 years at current rates of consumption-.

Of course this is the dumbass part of the argument. There is a cascade effect. We blithely assume that we can fall back on our massive coal supplies, envisioning gassification etc, practices that a priori entail a greatly accelerated rate of use and then roll out a reassuringly vast number for the length of time we expect that resource to last "at current usage levels". Get acquainted with the exponential function. With even modest growth, the 200 years becomes something your grandchildren will be concerned about.

Eric -

If it isn't oil, then it's coal or uranium. karlof is right in his above conclusion - in order for it to remain, it must be able to sustain itself. He and I just have different views on what is sustainable over millennia.

Nuclear can, with breeder reactors or fission. Solar can, and with solar or geothermal, you can split water and get hydrogen. Geothermal could be tapped all over the planet simply by drilling into spots where the crust is relatively thin, or around salt intrusions. If we decide to do it as a species, the rest of the solar system is possible for additional resources (is my hopeful side showing yet?).

But coal, oil, uranium, natural gas - all are concentrated energy sources which are mined and once exhausted, and cannot be replaced. Going to coal only works once for us as a species, just like oil. Unlike iron or copper, these things do not recycle.

We had an industrial revolution based on energy, not machinery. We can only sustain it in the current form and volume as long as there are resources enough. At current growth rates for China, India, etc., who are mimicking our progression, this means increasing consumption. Imagine 4 countries using resources like the US does. There simply isn't enough concentrated energy on the planet for more than 200 years total to sustain that, even if you roll coal and uranium into the mix with oil.

Concentrated energy like gasoline will need to be made instead of mined in the future. And to do it economically, we will need a basically "free" source of energy. Otherwise it will take more to make it than it yields when used.

We haven't even touched on climate change and population either, which are both very critical as to what is truly sustainable.

I hope you "get" this now. If not, maybe others can point you in some other directions.

There are a number of small scale answers, small-scale biodiesel, home heating by geothermal that address activities at an individual level, but for the significant steps that will be required by the end of the year there has to be some recognition of the problem at the Federal level, since without it the public will not care or understand until they are hit between the eyes by the price rise.

Iran planned to have its own hydrocarbon bourse operating at some point this year (just when is unsure since the dates keep changing). Both Iran and Russia already sell some oil for euros. Dollarized oil acts as a subsidy for the US economy. Check out "The Hidden Hand of American Hegemony: Petrodollar Recycling and International Markets" by David Spiro. You might also go to Asiatimes.com and check out Henry Liu's essays, especially Dollar Hegemony. If the dollarization of oil ends, then there is no longer any need to hold dollars as a reserve currency, and the dollar will drop like a stone.

The crosscountry delivery of food started long before the oil age via sailing ships--wheat and other goods sent to Mesopotamia from India @4,500 BC, and it will continue. Remember, the idea of comparative advantage also predates the fossil fuel age. Where oil is wasted is in meat production, not grain, fruits or vegetables. The item here http://www.mindfully.org/Food/Power-Steer-Pollan31mar02.htm provides great insight into our "Power Steers." Irrigation can be powered by solar pumps up to a point. Massive projects like the California Aquaduct use lots of power to move the water, but large volumes are lost to evaporation and leakage. For a great look at the insanity of farming in the desert southwest, read "How to Create a Water Crisis," and of course "Cadillac Desert."

From a USA perspective, a falling dollar would rapidly inflate the price of all imported items, oil and other petrochemical produts, just like it has recently. If you index the cost of oil with the falling of the dollar and relative rise of the euro, you will see that the oil puchasing power of the euro has stayed steady while that of the dollar has fallen.

What is civilized, and are we really?
I would argue we're still most often barbaric with interludes of civility.
As you may see from what I wrote above, I argue that we face several paths and that it's imperative the correct one be chosen if we're to avoid the worst aspects of what I call the Fossil Fuel Bust. What is certain is that the current economic paradigm is going to be changed into something else because endless growth cannot occur on a finite planet. As higher percentages of peoples' incomes go to pay for energy, consumption beyond needs declines, and the overall velocity of money in the economy slows. This works as a positive feedback to the economic decline as incomes progressively shrink until an equilibrium is reached.

One thing I always had to remind my students about is that the Great Depression didn't happen overnight with the stock market crash. It actually started in 1921 when the agricultural sector went into depression with the crash of prices after WW1. At this time 50% of US citizens were still farmers, and their crisis--unseen by most in the cities--weakened the economy's foundation to the point where all that was needed was a financial panic coupled with an international currency crisis to curtail factory work and many middle class jobs. I bet everyone here would be surprised to know that there are more people unemployed now than during the height of the Depression, and the situation continues to worsen--look at the debt bubble. (We don't have a social crisis because of the polices and programs put in place during the Depression, which Bush is trying to jettison.)My point is that what will become known as THE Great Depression will likely be dated as starting with the dot.com bust. As with the first Depression, it's where you are and what you're doing that will determine your fate. But if you're aware of the problems and the choices you have, then it's possible to be proactive and determine your own fate.

In the future, human societies will exist; just how "civilized" they will be is impossible to tell. Hopefully they will have learned from the collective folly that went before them.

Did Eric ever "get" the picture?

on your comments on the start of the Great Depression, two links from the energy bulletin are interesting

Letters at 3AM: $4 a gallon


High cost of diesel hitting hard at farm industry

I'm well aware that coal is no panacea. In particular, it hastens global warming, which actually scares me more than peak oil.

But I'm coming at this problem from the opposite direction--working backwards from engineering and agriculture. I know the current state-of-the-art in portable power sources and renewable energy, and I know what it costs to grow food on local farms with low energy investment. And in almost all cases, these costs are ugly--enough to cause another Great Depression, perhaps--but not enough to bring down technological civilization.

All we really need to do is develop affordable solar power and good batteries sometime in the next 50 years. The sun outside my window is currently supplying almost 1 kW/m^2, enough to run my house. We can currently tap that power for an amortized cost of 20-40 cents/kWh, which is probably a factor of 10 too high to replace coal. Improvements currently in the lab may drop those prices below 10 cents/kWh.

The second problem is power storage, and it's a doozy. The two choices are chemical and kinetic, with chemical subdivided into batteries and combustion. Batteries are improving slowly, perhaps too slowly to help. Combustion is hopeless, unless we have a wildly improbable breakthrough in hydrogen fuel cells, or we manage to get biodiesel from algae. And as for kinetic energy storage, we've barely started researching it.

When the external costs associated with coal are factored into its cost, it becomes far more expensive than solar.

It's very hard to gauge true energy costs because of the vast numbers of subsidies. This is also true for all numbers related to the economy, especially GDP.

Yeah, subsidies for existing energy sources make it hard to tell what anything really costs.

But solar would actually need to be cheaper by the kWh than coal, because the power supply is uneven and we'd need to level it, which we don't really know how to do.

I agree that the drawback with solar is its unevenness, which is why I highly favor ocean power.

I've never seen convincing numbers for ocean power. Do you know if it could supply several terawatts?

The human race consumes about 10TW of power. For comparison, the entire biosphere generates about 100TW from solar power, which places enormous limits on any biological source. (Biodiesel from algae might work, because it would produce substantially more oil per m^2 than regular crops.)

Solar is promising largely because (1) we could, in theory, capture many 100s of TW and (2) the underlying technology is improving rapidly, because it's based on silicon chips and/or basic materials science, which are improving rapidly and will continue to do so for decades to come.

Comment - relating to coal fired power plants vs solar. People have a tendency to underestimate the land requirements for coal fired power plants. In order to take care of ash residues, the rule of thumb is to allow for a 1.5 acre ash pond for every 1MW of installed capacity see

There are gleanings that solar cells with 50% to 70% efficiencies are around the corner. At 50% efficiency, the back of envelope calculations show electricity production to be equal on a land area basis to a coal fired power plant.

Thanks for clearing up where you are coming from, Eric. I don't think it is the end of civilization, just the end of it in the current form. Solar is the biggie, and like you, I have my own deal going. I am looking at moving in the next few years, specifically somewhere I can set up microhydro as well.

I cannot tell you the TW for the seas, but I can tell you that the heat hitting them is enough to spawn hurricanes, and that should tell everybody that there is tremendous potential there. I would think the issues are: what type device to employ (wave or current or both type generation), where, and how much can you do without upsetting the current or wave action or ecology. As 2/3 of the planet is sea, I think, provided we can harness it economically and sustainably, there is quite enough to let a society go forward. Just not a consumer-based society. We are all too familiar with the inevitable peak of overconsumption and the effects of over-use.

Kinetic storage, coupled with inertial delivery (flywheels), has given some really good numbers in the lab, especially with respect to uneven loads. There are several power companies with this technology on the drawing boards. In Texas, they are waiting on permits from the RR comission to use an old gas field for storage right now.

My son is in biotech, where they are working to develop plants with electrical potential, and mimic chlorophyll. This is the new frontier, not GM plants that can handle weed killers. But corporations control funding, so only a few people are working on these things.

Does anybody know if they are working on solar concentrator arrays and steam generation? Or is that dead now too?

Talking of Hurricanes and tornados, here are two technologies being proposed -- one of them is due to start construction in Australia