Oil, Jihad & Destiny - some comments

Re-reading the New Yorker piece on depletion (thanks Anon), I was struck by a comment made about energy independence by Robert Ebel (who works for CSIS). He said "it will never happen in my lifetime." And it struck me that there is this perception that nothing much will really change when Peak Oil appears and that it is assumed that it will not affect the way in which the nation operates.

The same thought struck me as I read Ronald Cooke's "Oil, Jihad & Destiny" this weekend. His response has perhaps been one of the more publicized to the CERA report and Yergin's publicity campaign for it.

In his book Cooke posits four scenarios for future demand and supply, but does not consider that as soon as supply cannot meet demand for an extended period, that the conditions change. For example, stating that by 2022 there will be a shortfall of 39 billion barrels in the Best Case, does not consider that as soon as a shortage develops behaviors and consumption patterns change. One has only to look at the drop in consumption (pictured here) in the 1970's in the United States to realize that planning beyond that crunch point must predicate on those conditions rather than the continuation of society as was.

One sees those changes already at the edges of our society. While it may not make the major papers yet, the effects of the continued high price of gasoline is getting more coverage in regional papers. And in those articles you find that local business owners are curtailing vacations, and already taking steps to trim fuel costs but still trying to keep from raising their prices to customers. With the impacts of high prices on the poor nations, referenced earlier, both will combine to give some Demand Destruction. Of course in the exporting countries such as Russia, the increased prices have led to a significant budget surplus. Although that story carries with it a disquieting caution from the Russian Government.
growth in Russia's gross domestic product (GDP) slowed this year by comparison with the same period in 2004 to 5.6 per cent from 7.4 per cent, partly as a result of a slow-down in oil extraction, the chief motor of the country's economy.

"We had exhausted all possibilities for boosting oil exports, and for now we have no other driving force," Deputy Economic Development Minister Andrei Sharonov admitted in an interview with the business weekly Profil.
Which brings me back to Cooke's book.

Although the book suffers some from being written over a period of time from 2000 to 2004 (it suggests that oil prices might not reach $66 a barrel until 2022 for example in one scenario) it is where he reaches his conclusions that I disagree most with him.

On the one hand he feels that Government cannot save us, (which I would rebut by pointing to the efforts in Europe to develop alternate energy sources and to encourage public transport). In recommending a change to hybrid vehicles, he ignores the number of cars currently in use, and the slow rate of change that can be effected with them, but it is his recommendation regarding NASA that is most off. I quote:
"Which brings us to NASA. Sorry. But I cannot get excited about another trip to the moon or yet another pretty picture of Mars. Not when we humans should be focusing our attention on urgently essential solutions to real problems here on Earth. NASA was created to fund a solution to a specific challenge – go to the moon (and elsewhere). But that mission is over. So now we have an institution that no longer serves an essential purpose. NASA desperately needs a new assignment.

So here is a proposal. Let's remission NASA. Change the name. Meld the resources with existing DOE programs. Focus its entire attention on the development of a new fuel system. Bring in the best minds from all over the world. Make this a really international effort. Now NASA would have a really, really useful purpose. Make sense?"
No! It does not! It is a fairly asinine recommendation, at best. Why? Because at the level of inquiry needed you will have to waste a huge amount of time retraining people into new disciplines. Yes I know that this is the
Fed's general practice in a crisis, to just throw huge amounts of money and I have ranted about this before but it does bear repeating.

There are already experts in many of the fields that need to be developed. By giving large amounts of money to a Federal Agency that is not currently engaged with these folk, you can almost be certain that at least a couple of years will be wasted, and a lot of money as the usual "pork" experts wade into the trough. It would make a lot more sense to work through existing agencies, who know where this expertise lies in most cases, and develop those programs where the money will get a more immediate response. Well I'm starting to rant again so I'll stop.

The book is no longer at Amazon (I got mine from one of their recommended booksellers) and it will likely go to the back of my library, since it has little to encourage use as a reference.

UPDATE: Um! It dawns on me that in this day of open-ness that I should disclose that about 30 odd years ago I did get a minor award from NASA (following a contract from them, that they had in turn from the Bureau of Mines), and that I have served on a panel that they assembled to discuss drilling.

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Another element of the equation in my mind is why do people like Cooke always seem to assume that we must continue on with growth and with finding alternatives SO THAT WE CAN MAINTAIN OUR CURRENT TRAJECTORY? Why is this so often the apparent goal of people's thinking about 'the future'?

Beneath all our looming challenges is this amazing fixation that we have built into our systems, namely growth --of the economies, of population, of cities, highways, etc. It's almost as though its considered 'sinful' and 'defeatist' to think in other terms.

As long as people continue to live in the paradigm "More is better" we won't address the 'driving engine' of the looming spin out (i.e., 'gotta keep growing'). go. But peak oil certainly will.

I guess that's the way of cultures: They don't adapt until they are FORCED to by environmental shortfalls.


It seems you'll have to accept *some* immigration into your field, particularly since you've noted elsewhere that it's gotten very understaffed over the lean years of the eighties and nineties.

At the same time, I agree with your assessment that even good people take a couple of years to come fully up to speed in a new field, and existing experts should be funded first, via existing channels.


I watched this happen last time. DOE gave a large chunk of money to JPL on the premise that these were our brightest scientists and they could figure it out. In the end they did, and I had some fun times working with them, but to get there they had to, in the end. hire in personnel from the industry to straighten out some of their thinking. The 2-year number to get their act together comes from that experience and from how long it is taking Homeland Security to get their act together, after wasting (see I'm ranting again).

It would be nice (but I suspect a futile wish) to see a different approach the next time around.

HO: I totally agree about his proposal regarding retooling NASA but his premise -- stating that "I cannot get excited about another trip to the moon or yet another pretty picture of Mars. Not when we humans should be focusing our attention on urgently essential solutions to real problems here on Earth" -- is exactly right. This is why I support the proposal by the saintly Roscoe Bartlett to start a new "Manhattan Project" for energy. NASA engineers need not apply....

Kinda hard to get excited about new NASA inventions when people are choosing at the other extreme (big block mustangs and chysler hemis).

... maybe we should just institute a tax credit for Harley buyers, that would at least play into the public thirst power, while reducing fuel consumption. "Leave your SUV at home, take the Harley to work!"

... honey, it's not for me ... it's for the nation!

I disagree with the intent of this post. I read Cooke's book approximately six months ago. I believe he is very clear up front that he is simply trying to put together some crude models. Of course demand destruction happens. Of course one can consider changing the eternal growth model that society is currently built on (as another commented pointed out). But Cooke's attempt to model POSSIBLE futures is one of the few I've seen so far. In a bipolar world of doom and gloom and cornucopian nirvana, Cooke's attempt is more balanced than anything I've seen.

The review of his book in this particular post seems bogus to me. A few red herrings pulled out. OK, NASA shouldn't specifically be given money. It's not their mandate. Duh. But the gist of what Cooke is saying is dead on: stop throwing money away on pointless space programs and start seeding alternate and sustainable transportation technologies.

Saying that Cooke's book should be put on the back shelf is sort of like saying the initial architectural drawings for a building should be hidden away before the more detailed drawings have been produced. Bogus. Until we find more detailed information, I say his analysis is the best we've got. Otherwise, all we've got is a lot of words, e.g. those of someone like Heinberg and all the other authors of similar ilk (all of which I've read in the past few years).

What we need is the next stage in Cooke's project. The review of his book is in fact walking in the opposite direction.

Cooke says $66 oil in 2022 in one scenario. Here's the venerable Richard Russell of Dow Theory Letter's fame projecting $83 dollar oil using the 'cold and unemotional' point & figure charts.


Russell is also saying that gold ('real money') will move higher with the price of oil.

There are some good power systems people at NASA but most of them have been downsized and outsourced over the years. The people at Lewis have been particularly hard hit. At this point I don't think there is much left.

The "pretty pictures of Mars" by which I suppose is meant the unmanned science missions represents a relatively small and shrinking fraction of NASA's budget. The real money pit is manned space flight. Sending people up to float around on potentially lethal photo ops and stationary bike riding expeditions. I'd like to keep the science and shelve the Buck Rogers crap.

One thing to consider about Ebel's comment about energy independence, that “it will never happen in my lifetime”, is if you parse it carefully, his statement contains a real nugget into the nature of the problem that hopefully you can explore further.

He is most likely correct, literally, of course. By reading his bio I conclude that he is now in his early 70's, and going here http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/STATS/table4c6.html#fn1 we see that his estimated life has about 12 years left.

Can anyone expect the US to be energy independent in 12 years?

Is it not, regarding your observation about the perceptions of many people about peak oil, that the *multi-generational* nature of energy use (it's growth then decline) is the gordion knot that those who are concerned with Peak oil must untie (or cut, to stay with the myth of the knot....)?


Charting is a modern version of reading tea leaves. It looks like it must mean something, but there is very little evidence technical analysis has any real value, especially in time periods longer than a day.

SW, HO, We could still can NASA and do something wth the money. We don't have to hire astronauts to work on energy issues. However, I remain a huge sceptic of the Manhatten project idea. Government money will flood well connected laboratories and drown other efforts.

Tax carbon and people will find a way to use less. It's not magic and may not solve the problem, but it does avoid the problem of throwing all that money away. I don't think a single modern energy technology has come out of a lab that was trying to create it.


"No organisation wants to be subverted. No organisation exists to be dissolved. An organisation is, by definition a conservative institution. If you didn't want to conserve something, why would you organise? Even if an organisation runs into serious trouble - if, perhaps, its market or reason for existence vanishes _ there remains a tremendous resistance to change. (And, by the way, our larger culture is also an organisation.) ... any change that might threaten the very meaning and therefore the existence of the organisation or its power relations would tend to be rejected - perhaps subtly and tacitly - because such vulnerability would not only be threatening to those within the group, but almost certainly to those who perceive from without - perhaps from higher up the corporate ladder - what this subgrouping of their organisation is getting up to."



Peak oil is now almost mainstream. 5 years ago people look at me funny when I mentioned it now I get asked. What price is gas going to be this xmas.

Dont ask me I just trade the stuff:)

Dan -

I think that your "gordian knot" is exactly the real problem we are dealing with. A lot of effort is spent on this blog arguing WHEN. The 'when' will be a series of rapids and waterfalls, not something abrupt like Angel Falls. It will likely encompass two generations, yet the reaction of the first generation will largely determine the available options for the second.

This makes "business as usual" a very dangerous proposition for humanity when looking at Peak Oil.

Oil Trader,
Interesting article from MSNBC...any editor who takes those decline figures seriously should be plastering it on the front page, above the fold.

Assuming that your handle reflects your profession, could you tell us whether there is an emerging consensus among traders and other industry insiders that we are approaching a peak?


Re: "...why do people like Cooke always seem to assume that we must continue on with growth...?"

Given a growing population, can you think of another way to support that population without a growing economy (nevermind for a moment the wealth inequality/concentration, consumer mentality of more is more, etc.)? If not, then stopping economic growth implies stopping population growth (as China has attempted with its one-child program, which has had the unintended and undesired effect of an imbalance of the number of male babies versus female babies, possibly leading to lots of societal problems soon). An essay by Jared Diamond written in 1987 about this choice NOT to limit population growth has been making the rounds of the internet recently:

"The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race":


Has anyone read any proposals about a more humane method of limiting growth than China's one-child program? Preferably something without the aborting or abandoning of females.

BTW, Russia's solution to the growing population is to have an environment and health care system that is so degraded that the population is expected to be one third smaller than it was in 1990.


(I apologize if these posts aren't considered close enough to the Peak Oil topic.)

Near $64 at close of day. In an attempt to insert some fun into this, here's my poll for oil prices on Labor Day weekend.

A above $70
B $65 to $69.99
C $60 to $64.99
D $55 to $59.55
E below $55

Cast your vote today! Starting off, I vote for B, though I was tempted by A. 8).

Dave - "Oil prices" is a somewhat misleading term, as there are different grades of oil and different delivery schedules. The figure which is usually quoted is the futures contract price for the nearest month, for light, sweet crude oil. Right now it is the September contract which is at almost $64.

The September contract will trade until August 25, at which point trading will be stopped. The oil then has to be delivered during the month of September. This means that the price on any given day is the consensus estimate of what oil will be worth in September.

After August 25 the nearest trading month will be October, and those are the figures which will be reported as the "oil price" on Labor Day.

October prices are about a dollar more than September so at this point the market is guessing that oil will be about a dollar higher a month from now than it is today. That puts us right on the borderline between B and C in your poll, but since October crude is slightly under $65 I will go with C.

Educating women and giving them control over their own money and bodies tends to bring the overall pop growth right down. (What works best, speaking mostly tongue-in-cheek, is to do a halfway job of social change, so that the choice is between being an independent women without children or a dependent and somewhat scorned one with: cf. Japan.)

One other point of interest; doing the analysis is more technical, but October crude option prices give us the following probabilites, roughly:

A above $70:..........23%
B $65 to $65.99:....25%
C $60 to $64.99:....26%
D $55 to $59.99:....19%
E below $55:...........7%

Further to Halfin's first point. I took a simple average of the price cited by DOE EIA for the three Saudi crude calsses (light, medium, and heavy) over the last year. The figure is $39.51 per barrel.

Has anyone ever seen a median or average price of oil sold rather than just benchmark prices?

I had in mind sweet crude (NYMEX) as tracked on right here on The Oil Drum. Of course, I concede points raised here by Halfin/Jack.

What traders think


My handle is RobT

4 years ago I was the only one posting Peak oil and what its effects would be on the markets now as you can see The traders are split about 50-50.
In the futures markets evolution is super fast if you are wrong you are gone fairly quickly if you are right you stay and become larger. Along with all the other rights. only 10% succeed trading futures.

Rather than a government run "manhattan project," we should push for government purchases of carbon free energy, i.e., wind, solar, whatnot. Whoever can provide power gets the bucks.

This idea was floated years ago, to power remote military stations, etc., and wean them off diesel. As prices come down, the power sources would be used on less remote sites. It would be a way of providing guaranteed demand for solar and wind manufacturers, so they would feel more confident that a sudden glut of oil on the market wouldn't wipe them out.

It would also save the government money in the long run, cut the trade deficit, and cut competition with the private sector for fossil fuels.

As for NASA, I say shut it down and use the money to fund the above project.