Getting a Grasp on Oil Production Volumes

Oil production numbers are often measured in millions of barrels (1 mb= 106 barrels) or billions of barrels (1 Gb= 109 barrels). In the January issue of the IEEE Spectrum magazine, I found this little article: Joules, BTUs, Quads—Let's Call the Whole Thing Off. They proposed to measure energy quantities in terms of Cubic Miles of Oil (CMO):

1 CMO= 4.17 cubic kilometers= 26.22 Gb (assuming 1 US barrel= 42 gallons)

Last year, the world produced around 26.86 Gb of crude oil + condensate or 1.02 CMO. The figure below gives you an idea of the scale of a CMO compared to the Eiffel tower:

1 Cubic Miles of Oil (CMO) or 26.22 Gb or 71.82 mbpd

The cumulative production for crude oil through 2006 is about 1,000 Gb= 38.13 CMO or enough to fill up one third of Lake Erie (~115 CMO).

The authors (Hewitt Crane and Ed Ed Kinderman from SRI International) proceed to translate the figures of energy from various sources into one CMO unit: "To obtain in one year the amount of energy contained in one cubic mile of oil, each year for 50 years we would need to have produced the numbers of dams, nuclear power plants, coal plants, windmills, or solar panels" shown on this amazing representation:

Assumptions: The Three Gorges Dam is rated at its full design capacity of 18 gigawatts. A nuclear power plant is postulated to be the equivalent of a 1.1-GW unit at the Diablo Canyon plant in California. A coal plant is one rated at 500 megawatts. A wind turbine is one with a 100‑meter blade span, and rated at 1.65 MW. A solar panel is a 2.1‑­kilowatt system made for home roofs. In comparing ­categories, bear in mind that the average amount of time that power is produced varies among them, so that total energy obtained is not a simple function of power rating.
src: Joules, BTUs, Quads—Let's Call the Whole Thing Off, IEEE Spectrum, January 2007
Illustration: bryan christie design

Also check this lecture given by Hewitt Crane:

Second set of considerations about the state of the world’s energy supply

I would also be useful to put it in terms of oil equivalent of fossil fuel + nuclear power use--which is on the order of one Gb of oil equivalent every five days.

We consume the energy equivalent of: the East Texas Field in less than one month; Prudhoe Bay's oil reserves in less than two months and all of ExxonMobil's proven oil and gas reserves in less than four months.

So, since the (so far) peak production rate of world crude oil in May, 2005, we have consumed--from fossil fuel + nuclear sources--the energy equivalent of all of Saudi Arabia's cumulative oil production to date.

I did some quick calculations, and it looks like 2000 nuclear reactors operating at 85% uptime would replace all the oil used on a heat energy basis. Multiply by about 3 for an electrical energy basis, although I would argue that a heat basis is probably closer to reality because combustion engines are significantly less efficient at producing useful mechanical or electrical energy than reactors.

While 2000 or so reactors is a whole bunch, it is not inconceivable. Of course there is that issue of batteries when considering how to power vehicles...

Now, I am trying to conceive of enough uranium mines to power 2000 reactors....and I am afraid I DO know the meaning of the word "inconceivable" ---while still knowing that one should never get involved in a land war in Asia.

Not a problem with breeder reactors, if you don't mind that there would be plutonium for hundreds of thousands of bombs around at any given time.

"Cough" Except that we have not been able to build a breeder reactor that actually breeds in the real world as far as I know, and the figues I am aware of say that it would, on paper, take 10 years of run time for a breeder to make enough of the right isotopes to fuel its "child" at startup. So, even if we could get it working, at a "doubling time of 10 years due to the "fuel breed rate constraint" we would be looking at over a century to get to 2000 reactors.

"Cough" Except that we have not been able to build a breeder reactor that actually breeds in the real world as far as I know, and the figues I am aware of say that it would, on paper, take 10 years of run time for a breeder to make enough of the right isotopes to fuel its "child" at startup.

We've had a number of successful breeders, from superfenix in france to ORNLs MSBR prototype. We havent needed any commercial breeders because we have more uranium than we could ever exhaust with light water reactors, so if breeders succeed it will have to be more than because of fuel efficiency.

You only need breeders to breed fuel for themselves; We're not facing a critical shortage of fissile fuel for startup. All a breeding regime needs for success is a breeding ratio of 1.0.

To call superfenix a "successful breeder" seems to me to be a big stretch. It ran for 10 years prior to being closed down, cost 6.8 billion USD to produce a total of 8 Billion KWH of electricity and as far as I know did not actually do much breeding (was not operated much in that mode AFAIK.

What sort of a fuel cycle do you have in mind to justify: "All a breeding regime needs for success is a breeding ratio of 1.0"?

Oak ridge labs gives the fuel doubling time for the MSBR design as between 13 and 21 years here

and seems to see it as a constraint (see my post above) but maybe I'm missing something...

To call superfenix a "successful breeder" seems to me to be a big stretch.

Technically successful, economic failure. All breeders will be with so much cheap uranium unless the offer more than fuel efficiency. Any solid fuel breeding regime is going to be a failure.

What sort of a fuel cycle do you have in mind to justify: "All a breeding regime needs for success is a breeding ratio of 1.0"?

You breed enough fissile material to keep the reactor running. We have access to 20000 tons of fissile material easily, and thats all you need in a 1.0 breeding regime for 20000 reactors.

and seems to see it as a constraint (see my post above) but maybe I'm missing something...

Thats probably because the MSBR's ideal fuel is U233, and it would be nice to breed enough U233 to fuel other reactors in the fleet, but its hardly necissary. I find liquid chloride actinide incinerators as ideal breeders for U233 for MSR seed fuel myself; But you cold just as easily seed it with U235, just making sure to pay more attention to initial actinide inventory.

Technically successful, economic failure.

Superphénix in France was not a technical success. It never got near its design output and was plagued with corrosion problems and leaks from the liquid sodium coolant. For most of its last ten years it produced little electricity and was a net consumer of power as the sodium had to be heated to keep it molten even when no electricity was being generated.

The two fast breeder reactors at Dounreay in Scotland also suffered problems from liquid sodium and this was one of the factors in the abandonment of the British fast breeder programme although the economic arguments about fuel costs in the medium term were bigger factors. It is not an inherent feature of fast breeder reactors but the environmental safety management at Dounreay was a disgrace. An estimated 10,000 irradiated fuel particles are in the nearby sea. Intermediate waste was dumped in a 65 metre shaft without records being kept which has contaminated groundwater and is likely to be washed away by the sea in 300 years. Hydrogen generated in the shaft has lead to one explosion.

Although, as I have said they are not inherent in fast breeders, these and other safety failings mean that the political realities are that there is almost no chance of a new fast breeder programme in the foreseeable future.

Neither country has yet come up with an answer of what to do with the thousands of tonnes of radioactively contaminated sodium.

By no chance of a new fast breeder programme, I meant in the UK, perceptions elsewhere may be different.

the political realities are that there is almost no chance of a new fast breeder programme in the foreseeable future

That's so funny. Usually it starts with "we have only 50-60 years" of uranium left. When shown that the exact numbers are closer to hundreds of years and many thousands of years if we include breeders then it always goes to the breeders and their birth defects. And it ends with a statement like the one above, generously dismissing the whole nuclear industry because of several failures. What is for you a foreseeble future? 10 years? 50 years (when the proven, high-grade ores are expected to end? 1,000 years? Do you know how much natural gas we have in US? Just for 8 years. How much copper? For 30 years. Do we need to stop using those - you bet!!!

This is such a junk. I wish at least you came up with something new - it is a same old overused strawman over and over again.

the political realities are that there is almost no chance of a new fast breeder programme in the foreseeable future

That's so funny ...


Nick is simply stating a political truth for the British environment.

Insulting him doesn't change the truth of his message.

Fast breeder reactors are NOT coming back here in the UK anytime soon.

If "soon" means 20 to 30 years I agree. I just pointed out that arguing against the long term feasibility of a technology on political grounds, which change from the morning to the afternoon is a ridiculous thing to do. Anyway in this 20-30 years timeframe there is no pressing need to develop breeders - uranium supplies will be more then sufficient.

You arent going to get me to defend liquid metal breeder reactors. They are technically successful at being able to produce plutonium. That superfenix didnt meet all the public works promises is a different matter. We will never pursue liquid metal breeder reactors because they are inherently less safe than thermal reactors or liquid fuel reactors, and incur large costs with processing regimes that must deal with many transuranic actinides. They do illustrate a technology that does work, albeit with many engineering challenges and extra costs. We wont ever pursue them because uranium will allways be too cheap for them to be justified.

The MSBR however did meet all of its design goals, but it wasn't an excuse to produce more plutonium during the cold war either. It is potentially cheaper than LWRs because of issues entirely divorced from fuel costs; No fuel fabrication, much smaller waste streams, inherent safety, negative void and temperature coefficients, better thermodynaic efficiency, scalability in size, continuous uptime.

Although, as I have said they are not inherent in fast breeders, these and other safety failings mean that the political realities are that there is almost no chance of a new fast breeder programme in the foreseeable future.

Well, a liquid chloride reactor might make sense for actinide incineration.

Neither country has yet come up with an answer of what to do with the thousands of tonnes of radioactively contaminated sodium.

Stick it in concrete casks in a parking lot. Worry about it next century. This isn't a hard problem, despite peoples efforts to make it so.

My point was not that we should build breeders but that we shouldn't. Technically many reactors are (albeit poor) breeders and many countries getting into the reactor game right now are really only interested in the generation of weapons grade plutonium.

Some, like Japan are probably honest in their attempts to build true breeder reactors. I doubt the investments they make will pay off in the long run.

I don't really care about starting a nuclear fuel cycle with breeders because I know that we can satisfy our needs and more with renewables which have absolutely no proliferation risk. 40 million solar panels produce as much electricity as a 1GWe reactor, but no matter how many you compress with explosives, there is never a nuclear explosion. :-)

Every time that argument succeeds, the coal lobby cheers.

Sadly enough, you have a point. I was more hoping the renewables lobby would cheer, but nobody seems to be there. Maybe that is so because everyone is working around the clock to grow last year's $30 billion global industry into this year's $40 billion global industry?

We can avoid some of the proliferation and long-lived waste problems by using thorium breeders.

My original post was not intended to downplay the importance of renewables and conservation, because we not only need to implement alternatives to oil but we also need to offset natural gas depletion and stop discharging CO2 from coal power plants. So we need a lot more of both nuclear and renewables, and we need them much sooner than most people realize.

Fortunately, the information is out there.

With 1 trillion tons of uranium recoverable, and a 1GW reactor consuming 200 tons of unenriched uranium per year, 2000 reactors would burn through the recoverable uranium in only 2.5 million years

Now if we switch to thorium and uranium breeders, we'll have 160 trillion tons recoverable and only consume 1 ton per GW/year, so we'll have some breathing room with 16 million years of fuel assuming we had 10 million 1GW reactors. We couldn't burn it faster than that because we'd be doubling the heat rejection of the earth, so you would still have global warming, but instead of from CO2 it would be from simple waste heat.

That link looked more like a CERA report than a real analysis of uranium capacity. Funny how with so much supply uranium has gone from $7/lb to $60/lb in the last three years. There's lots of uranium out there, just as there is a lot of natural gas in the methane hydrates. No silver bullet here, sadly.

Funny how with so much supply uranium has gone from $7/lb to $60/lb in the last three years.

Funny how uranium price is negligable for nuclear power still. One might muse how its funny with oil supply dropping the price drops as well. If you have a criticism of the report, feel free to illustrate.

But comparing uranium to natural gas is naive in the extreme. Uranium could be five times todays price with no measurable impact on price per kw/hr from the plant. You're talking about 20 million per year on a 2 billion dollar plant.

The figures may be accurate as far as they go, but the vast majority of Uranium cannot be recovered with a net positive EROEI if it is to be used as reactor fuel. I.e. the stuff that is in the oceans, floating around in the magma in the core, trapped in hard granite where the milling required takes more energy than the U contains etc. etc.

The useful U, i.e. concentrated enough and in soft enough rock to have + ERORI is enough for about 75 years at present global consumption rates according to U.K. Gov't study (sorry, can't find citation perhaps others can help)

Read the link! The measured the energy inputs and the recoverable uranium with an energy payback of 16-32 is 1 trillion tons, and this is with light water reactors using the major energy sink of enrichment.

Every study I've seen points to the same thing.

This is referred to as the Techno-fairy solution. And it has many obstacles.

Building these Nukes requires lots of fossil fuels.
Mining the fissible ore requires FF.
Breeding the material implies that energy is already expensive.
Each plant has huge hurdles in getting built from regulatory agencies and NIMBY.
Waste disposal & decomissioning of plants is yet to be factored into costs.
Cost escalation for materials such as concrete.
Upgrading the 'Grid' for the enormous increase of EVs.
Resistance to allow the technology to pervade.

I'm not dismissing it. France is a good example of oil-poor and mitigating it's effects. But it simply is not a substitute.

And? Noone has ever claimed that uranium can be burned in '90s era gasoline engines. Noone has ever said that the green movement does not exist. Noone has ever said that we should build our houses out of radioactive materials, that the grid builds itself, or that the populace is currently screaming to live in the shade of a cooling tower.

Of course it would be difficult.

But calling it a non-solution is to ignore the fact that it is possible. With current technology. With positive ROI. Without harming the climate, air quality, etc. Accidents that do happen (which are several orders of magnitude less likely with up-to-date designs and some government transparency) tend to have a net benefit under radical environmental ideologies - see Chernobyl as nature preserve.

If it was easier to work on nuclear plants than a cubic kilometer of oil, we would be doing it already.

The linked page says:

If the energy cost increases in inverse proportion to the Ore concentration, shales and phosphates, with a Uranium abundance of 10 - 20 ppm, could be mined with an energy gain of 16 - 32. The total amount of Uranium in these rocks is estimated to be 8000 times greater than the deposits currently being exploited.

Maybe I'm spoiled by the quality and depth of the data flow on TOD, but this is a rather bold assertion for the NuclearInfo site to make without attribution.

Can you provide URLs of some of these studies you mention that support that statement?

The first sentence of the block quote is just working the fractions on the numbers given on the linked webpage.
Rossing mine has ore at 300 PPM and for 1 unit of energy expended in mining provides enough Uranium for powerplants to provide 500 units of energy.
Going down to ore at 10 PPM (30 times less concentrated), the 1 unit of energy for mining would provide enough uranium for powerplants to generate about 500 / 30 = 16.6 units of energy.

The attribution is right at the top of the webpage; it is a study by our buddy Kenneth Deffeyes! If you look at Deffeyes' table of uranium ore abundance versus uranium ore concentration (the table that is displayed on the linked page) and compare the tonnages for line 4 (the estimated tons available with ore that we currently process) and the tonnage for line 7 (the estimated tons available with ore at 10 to 20 PPM), you will see that 8 X 10^11 tons divided by 1 X 10^8 tons = 8 X 10^3, or a ratio of 8,000, as stated.

I think we would be lucky if our numbers here on TOD were as good as those from Deffeyes or the Nuclear Info website.

What do you mean without attribution? Its all in the link...

The following table is from Deffeyes & MacGregor, "World Uranium resources" Scientific American, Vol 242, No 1, January 1980, pp. 66-76.

specifically, we currently mine from ore concentrations as low as 300ppm. It cite it specifically:

The Rossing mine in Nambia mines Uranium at an Ore concentration of 300 ppm at an energy cost 500 times less than the energy it delivers with current thermal-spectrum reactors.

And there is more info related to the rossing mine study:

with the data measured from the vattenfall study, and similar data from the olympic dam mine.

Hello TOD
Does anybody have an opinion on the papers and conclusions below ?

If we disregard the CO2 discussion and concentrate on energy it will come down to a discuccion of the nuclear fuel ore quality and the EROEI of nuclear fuels in a nuclear plant lifecycle perspective?

You can extract Nuclear from the vast amounts in seawater it is EROEI negative?

Figure 10 and 11 in this study
indicate that ore grades below ~0.02% W/W -are EROEI - negative.

Figure 1 in this paper
gives an overview of the general lifetime energy costs of nuclear.

As far as I can see it is a repetition of the oil/gas EROEI discussion. A large part of the Uranium will never be mined- for good EROEI reasons.
Dopes anybody ( except the authors of the papers) have an indication of what the EROEI positive extractable reserves are?

The storm/smith paper allways comes up eventually. Its an illustration of how to lie with statistics. They lie.

FOr instance, they cherry pick the most energy intensive methods of mining, use theoretical samples, and insist on using data and technology from over 40 years ago... such as gasseous diffusion enrichment which is 50 times more energy intensive than centrifuge enrichment, and entirely unnecissary in CANDU reactors is the most telling example. And when confronted with this, they offer the lamest of excuses.

If you check the above link from the very post you responded to, the address the storm/smith paper directly.

I hate having to repost large chunks of the link in full but this comes up over and over again:

It is worth noting that the widely quoted paper by Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith (SLS), which gives a rather pessimistic assessment of the Energy Lifecycle of Nuclear Power, assumes a far larger energy cost to construct and decommission a Nuclear Power plant (240 Peta-Joules versus 8 Peta-Joules(PJ)). The difference is that Vattenfall actually measured their energy inputs whereas Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Smith employed various theoretical relationships between dollar costs and energy consumed. This paper also grossly over-estimates the energy cost of mining low-grade Ores and also that the efficiency of extraction of Uranium from reserves would fall dramatically at ore concentrations below 0.05%. Employing their calculations predicts that the energy cost of extracting the Olympic Dam mine's yearly production of 4600 tonnes of Uranium would require energy equivalent to almost 2 one-GigaWatt power plants running for a full year (2 Giga-Watt years). This is larger than the entire electricity production of South Australia and an order of magnitude more than the measured energy inputs.

Storm/Smith are partisans with an agenda that lie with misrepresentations, half-truths, and gross errors. According to their calculations nuclear plants cant even run now, which is clearly false since they clearly do produce net energy.

The tragedy is that these jokers have gotten so much press.

Many of the people you argue with are also partisans, which makes the point of arguing... well doubtful at best.

dear dezakin.
Point taken :-)

IMHO nuclear will be an unavoidable and vital part of our energy future together with renewables when nuclear is there and fossil not. So we have to find a balanced transition and a modus vivendi.
It would, therefore, be nice to see a sober summary of the available EROEI positive nuclear fuel reserves, split into the respective fuels, reactor types- and a discussion of which mix of reactors etc. will give the maximal output with the least problems. So we can compare with fossil, renewables, costs etc and start planning.

kind regards/And1

Forget batteries ,
the high point of electric cars tech was in 1900
when the electic car " jamais contente" piloted by a mr dejazy broke the 100km speed barrier !
ever since in spite of a good industrial body of technologies with plenty of electrical vehicles usage from forklift , giant mining trucks to golf buggy ' the electrical path has been discounted ,
The main reason is that electricity is NOT an energy source ,
it's an energy transfer , like steam .
By the way nuclear power plant are steam turbines thermal plant, the only difference is the primary source of heat

Batteries are actually getting much better. The nickel hydride ones in my Prius work quite well. The latest technology in lithium batteries is tantilizingly close to being suitable for powering vehicles all on their own. The electricity for charging batteries would come from the grid, which would be supplied by nuclear, solar, sequestered coal, etc.

My reason for differentiating electric energy output from heat energy output is that the article appeared to be counting nuclear reactors only at their electric output. This would not be a fair comparison to oil, unless you are only looking at direct end-user heating with oil.

I posted this on the Verticle and Horizontal well drilling article by Heading Out, but would like to repost in case anyone missed it, according to Saudi Aramco Ghawar is 48% depleted as of 2004 -- see slide 11 of this presentation:

Complaints before was that we had no data on Ghawar for more than 2 decades, but here it is, straight from Aramco itself.

Which of course raises the question of what percentage of Lake Erie is currently oil.

Anyhow, they started out OK with the (US friendly) unit of CMO, but then muddled things further with:

"To obtain in one year the amount of energy contained in one cubic mile of oil, each year for 50 years we would need to have produced the numbers of dams, nuclear power plants, coal plants, windmills, or solar panels"

I think I know where they are going, but I got lost along the way.

"Which of course raises the question of what percentage of Lake Erie is currently oil."

At one time a large percentage of Lake Erie was indeed oil. Lake Erie and its tributary the Cuyahoga river were so contaminated with oil and other waste that these bodies of water caught fire more than once! Here's some photos:

They don't call Cleveland "the mistake on the lake" for no reason! When I was a kid you could not hold your hand one foot under the surface of the water and see it. The accidental introduction of the zebra mussel to the great lakes has caused a lot of problems, but no one complains about how clean the lakes are now.

Here's a more complete link to the history of fires on the Cuyahoga:

I know this is off topic, but if you're interested in learning more about the terrible pollution problem the great lakes had, and how proper legislative and other actions have dramatically improved things, here's a link:

Hello Khebab,

Great graphics to illustrate the phenomenal energy density of oil and the volume required to support our delusional 'infinite growth system'!!! Maybe this might help motivate our global leaders to jumpstart massive change.

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Folks, I haven't reminded you in a while...this is exactly the kind of piece that the reddit and digg folks will love. Hit it hard!

A very effective way of illustrating the complete futility of attempting to ever replace the energy content of the oil we used just this past year.

They have taken those big trillion numbers and reduced them to something anyone can understand. I like it a lot.

A very valid argument IF and only IF all that oil had been put to a good use!

But that is not the case. The gas burnt in an SUV is 70% wasted if we assume a single driver in an economy car. 85% of it is wasted if we assume two people commuting together and a full 92.5% of it is wasted if we let four people commute in an economy car. And if we let 20 people take this bus

with its 15mpg efficiency, we get down to 300mpg/person or the equivalent of 98% waste.

So now your cubic mile of oil flood has evaporated in its usefulness to a slowly trickling stream of useful energy, ALL of which could be easily generated with wind or PV.

WASTE is not the same as NEED.

Why? Why is it futile?

So we can all die off and fulfill some absurd psychological need certain people have to forecast apocalypse?

It needs to be done, is what I'm saying. It doesn't illustrate futility, it demonstrates utility. We need to find some combination of the above that fulfill some fraction of the equivalent energy embodied in oil.

Saying "That's a huge amount of energy we have to replace... let's not even try." is an ideologically and emotionally charged argument - one which very few of us who plan on living in the next century will agree with.

I read a couple of years ago that our yearly production was about 1 cubic mile.

From that time, I have been using that mental picture to tell people about PO.

VERY GRAPHIC. Thank you for the Picture.

How much CO2 does 1 CMO equate to?


At a guess I'd say 1 CMO --> 2.5 cubic miles of CO2 (perhaps a bit less) when heavier oxygen attaches itself to carbon. That also shows the near physical impossibility of underground burial of CO2 from all fossil fuels especially coal. So politicians stop talking about 'clean coal'.

I think however most people can't handle large numbers. Modest percentages are better. Something like 'in 2010 energy bills will take up another x% of your budget so you will have to cut back on other things'. That's if we knew 'x'.

I'm assuming you are talking about liquified CO2? Gaseous CO2 has ~700 times lesser density, so the amount of CO2 would be 1750 cubic miles at atmospheric pressure. If you spread this thing around the Earth it would translate to a 14 centimeters thick layer of CO2. For comparison the whole ozone layer would be 2 cm thick at atmospheric pressure.

Well, lessee ...

1609.344 m/mile or 1 mile3 = 4.17 x10^9 m3. Density of petroleum is 820 kg/m3 -> 3.42 trillion kg oil (holy cr*p), of which 6/7 is C by weight (assuming petroleum is -CH2-), or 2.93 x1012 kg C = 10.7 x1012 kg CO2 or 244 x1012 moles CO2. PV = nRT so V = nRT/P, so at atmospheric pressure and 298K that's 5.97 x1012 m3 or about 1431.5 miles3.

That would have to be 1431 really really flat cubic miles, because if it were a cube it would be over 11 miles on a side (holy cr*p^2), and at 11 miles altitude, P is more like 200 mbar (I used 1013.25 for surface P) and T maybe 220-230K, so it would actually be even bigger. Also, if the petroleum is particularly heavy the C/H ratio may be less than 1/2, so the numbers would go up a bit.

Also, if the petroleum is particularly heavy the C/H ratio may be less than 1/2, so the numbers would go up a bit.

Oops, that should be more than 1/2.

Excellent! Pity though that the time unit is not constant - very hard to reasonably compare one years use of X to 50 years projected use of Y, Z, and so on. As a mental picture, I mean, which is what was intended I presume.


My question also. The individual options per year = 1 CMO per year?
I think that is what I'm reading into this am I correct?
Very visual and scary no? I now vote you tied in 1st place with WT as the scariest poster on TOD....

It pays to read slower...

Is this accurate? Seriously, that is alot of stuff times 50 years.

I believe this is correct, they give a yearly increment forming a wedge over fifty years that will reach the energy equivalent of 1 CMO. Note that China is almost doing that:

China alone is expected to construct 562 new coal-fired plants over the next eight years. Since the life span of a typical coal-fired plant is 50 years, coal's share of the world's energy production will rival oil's for most of the century.


562/8= 70 new coal plants per year!

we are in big trouble

Can someone clarify please? Is 1 CMO equivalent to all those other forms (wind, coal, nuclear) ADDED together or each separately? At first I think it's AND, but the equal signs imply OR. If it's OR, that means 91M solar = 32K wind = 52 nukes = 104 coal = 1 CMO.

104 Coal * 50 = 1 CMO

So why don't they just say 5200 coal fired plants? Then a comparison to the actual number we have today, could give us something to think about.

I think they are trying to illustrate just how massive a project would have to be undertaken over the next 50 years to approximate the amount of oil we use today. Governments have a tendency to think of the "serious" oil crisis as being far into the future.

John McFadden

I agree, I think they are trying to explain that this equipment is not built overnight and that to be prepared for the end of oil as we know it today we would have to have some very good leaders with a lot of forsight who got started 50 years ago if our oil was to end today.

The next logical step would be to assign construction times and oil costs to each of the projects illustrated, for instance we know how long it took to build the three gorges dam, and treat it as a knapsack problem, fitting the best mix into 50 years.

Then calculate just how may CMO it would take to build the mix we come up with. Comparing that figure with cumulative production might be a real eye popper.

It would probably be better to illustrate how much oil could be saved if EPA milage requirements were anywhere close to those of Europe and Japan. But I suppose that would more feel like a kick in the groin to most Americans.


IP, I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that you have never made a presentation at the Ministerial level. You usually have exactly five minutes, and the first words out of your mouth better not be something they don't want to hear or the presentation is over before it starts.

Nobody here at TOD would be likely to argue that conservation is a good idea, but the trick is to find the angle that could lead to being able to sell that alternative over a host of more politically expedient options.

Harping isn't the angle.

Why would I need to make a presentation at the ministerial level? How is that going to help with the energy problems of the future?

I can have an impact on ALL my energy needs by going to the hardware store and getting some insulation for my house, purchasing a few solar panels, installing a better BIOS on my computer at work etc.. The next car we are going to buy will have 40+% better efficiency, which is plenty good to survive the next decade of PO.

I have no need to ask any politician for anything. I have no need to wait for their response, either. Neither do you. Unless you feel that a problem is not solved until someone else solves it for you, of course. In which case it really boils down to the question if you can think for yourself or need someone to prescribe solutions for you.

You are a breath of fresh air, IP. You make me chuckle.

I might make you chuckle, but obviously I can't make you answer any serious question with a coherent argument.

Take for instance the question:

Can you tell me why Americans like to waste so much oil and then bitch about not getting enough of it?

I am looking forward to your answer...


I'm sorry, I only saw what I thought was a rhetorical question. However, now that you ask, I would have to first know if John Q. Public is complaining about not getting enough oil.

Do you know that this is the case? I hear the odd complaint about the price of gas at the pumps and the cost of heating homes in winter, but other than that, I'm not aware of any oil shortages in recent memory.

It seems to me that once John Q. Public starts complaining about not getting enough oil the largest part of TOD's work will be complete.

That's not how a consumer reacts. Gas prices are the sole expression of an oil shortage in a competitive market economy.

A social panic in reaction to news and in reaction to market expectations is the only thing that can cause actual gas shortages - gas shortages can only occur when demand is grossly above the expectations of the ones setting prices, or their ability to control the prices.

When John Q. Public starts complaining about $6 gas that appears to clearly be caused by lowered production - when John makes that connection - is when TOD's work begins to show the first signs of success, and powers begin to move. Unfortunately, with a significant steady decline, $6 gas will very likely become $12 gas as the initiatives required are slowly set in motion.

This is the major discomfort, the demand destruction, the forced conservation that is always mentioned. The poor and middle class are FORCED to stop consuming so much oil because they can't afford it, not because they're unable to find it. Businesses that relied heavily on oil to be marginally profitable are forced out of business. The rich and the successful businesses keep right on driving.

That's right, and John Q. Public is doing OK, crude oil prices are going down, Toyota is making some kind of modernized Land Cruiser and they're showing up on the roads all over, and here in Silicon Valley, at least 1/3 of the cars on the road are SUVs and everyone's happy.

We need at least $6 gas for John Q. Public to wake up....... in fact, wasn't gas $5-something in the 1940s or 1950s corrected for inflation?

I'm sorry, but I have to say this. Americans are spoiled. I pay less for Canadian sourced gasoline in the US than I do in Canada.

John Q. Public will grumble about price but won't perceive an energy shortage until he waits in line for 4 hours to buy a tank of gas. Remember the '70s.

Hum... OK.. I can’t take it anymore. As engineers we are always "running the numbers" and stating what the possibilities are --- but sometimes I wonder if many of us really understand the scope and the real magnitude of the problems we are going to face in the next hundred years or so. We sometimes show how greater efficiencies can be added to our personal transportation systems, but many of us fail to realize just how much energy is used in just about every other area of our lives from transportation of goods, plastics, heating, air-conditioning, communications, computers, farming, fertilizers, heavy manufacturing, hostpitals, construction, etc. How are we going to transport tons of materials all around the country without 18 wheelers or how are we going to drive a tractor without oil, farm without fertilizers, run a steal mill, or heat half the homes in the US without natural gas, all with an aging population. Most of us agree that there are possibilities --- but the magnitude of the problems, the limited scalability of these possibilities, and the fact that it’s getting worse as I write this -- is the real problem. We haven’t even started to address the last issue – which is continued growth! So any efficiency improvements we suggest are just temporary and offset by future growth quicker than you could even implement them.

The real problem is that most of us (me included) have no idea what it means to have smaller populations, smaller growth, less stuff, less travel, no airlines, less government, less food – we just have no idea what this means. As Bartlett said, there is no such thing as sustainable growth.

So how many solar panels did you purchase in the last year for your house or for your parent’s house, and how many have you installed this year? Even hot water panels pay for themselves in 6 years or so, but you don’t see many of them being put up. Don't forget to include the local stores where you shop, the building where you work, or where you eat. Also include heat storage and how and where we are you going to store the hot water or energy for cold/cloudy days when the sun doesn't shine (like here in Colorado). I can't even imagine Colorado without natural gas, for example. Also include how all the poor people in the world, who mostly rent property and live day to day, are going to afford and install this technology. It’s not going to be that simple.

Don’t misunderstand me --- I agree that a solar panel is worth a slave, and I think the industrial revolution ended slavery in the north for a very good reason -- because it was no longer needed; so we should be installing solar panels as fast as possible. I'm not going back to slavery or living in a cave if I can help it, but we have a long way to go to truly understand what long term permanent sustainability really means and the magnitude of this problem.

Things could get very difficult for many, and for some places in the world it may have already started. You cannot disagree that it is mathematically conceivable and even probable that hundreds of thousands or even millions of people could possibly die if farming fails, governments fail, financial systems fail because of running out of fossil fuels -- while we twiddle our thumbs and talk about what technology is possible when the real problem is huge and almost unimaginable. We even know the scale of many of theses infinite technologies don’t even come close to the energy of a good oil field, and that fossile fuels created the ability for theses technologies to exist in the first place; even worse is the fact that because of growth things are getting worse as fast as we can do something about it. Which is almost nothing considering the magnitude of the problem.

So it’s really not about being a little more efficient in our personal transportation system (that's easy) or about installing a few solar panels here or there or a few nuclear reactors -- that will only take us so far and only for a small percentage of the worlds population. I’m not talking about the next decade – I’m sure many of us hope to live a lot longer than that. We must be still long enough and think about the real problem (growth & scale), and think about 50 years from now. Get out, and view your city or travel to another poor country (Mexico City will wake you up), get out in the world and understand the real magnitude of the issues and about long term sustainability.

Sorry for being harsh, but I couldn’t help it anymore and lost it...

You lost it only to gain lucidity; it would be nice to see this more often here. The top level here, Leanan et al, know the score, but there's an awful lot of "Well, we could raise cold-tolerent longhair guinea pigs, save their dung, then biomass that into ethanol...." thinking here.

Most of the people here were raise on Hot Pockets and 200 channels, they literally can't conceive of a non-motorized, non-televised, way of life.

Take atomic energy for instance - the only demonstrated success has been in making bombs and in making isotopes for medical/industrial purposes. At high expense, but the proceeds were, and are, worth it. But, I am sure if that if a real energy accounting were done, from the fuel for the truck driven by the prospector who finds the U ore, to the fancy machines needed to process it, the building of the reactor, the humans and machines needed to run it, a FULL energy accounting, it would be found that nuclear energy has been riding on the back of oil.

Solar panels will be fun toys for a while, but they won't be replaced when the oil party runs out. None of the modern stuff will be, because only a huge waterfall of energy input allows their manufacture and the kind of society that manufactures them. People are smart, they're damn smart. That's not the limiting factor. The only reason the Rig Veda doesn't describe how to build a 3-phase alternator isn't that people weren't that smart back then, the energy just wasn't there.

The desire to keep the easy motoring lifestyle going here, even if powered by prairie dog poops or Zero Point Energy, isn't conscious in most cases, it's all people know. It's Life As They Know It. I've been poor and seen the horror on the faces of my more affluent companions when I've described how to sew up clothes or catch crawdads, in fact I've learned not to mention such things. Basic living skills are flat-out jarring to..... to.... the oil babies.

The real problem is that most of us (me included) have no idea what it means to have smaller populations, smaller growth, less stuff, less travel, no airlines, less government, less food – we just have no idea what this means. As Bartlett said, there is no such thing as sustainable growth.

Sure we do.

It's called the Middle Ages, or the Dark Ages. It was the days of old, when knights were bold, and "stuff" hadn't been invented. It was the times before humanity became "Enlightened" by steam engines and coal and oil and electricity. It was the times when the average human being was lucky to make it to age 35 years and with a few teeth still left in his or her mouth. It was the times when everyone prayed a lot because life here on Earth sucked and you kept hoping the "afterlife" would be something better.

Look here for more on the Middle Ages (Midieval Times --click on the picture ---> )

See also here on the topic of Midieval Technologies.

Hehe, i was going to a school right beside that very building for quite a few years. ;-)

I did some rough calculations some time ago and came to the conclusion that the U.S. would need to roughly double its electrical output to replace petroleum. This of course is ridiculous. Petroleum production will not go to zero that fast. Besides which electric vehicles would hopefully not weigh as much as those with ICEs. Throw in some conservation and the transition is doable. I fear major wars and the government more than peak oil. They will only make things worse.

"I fear major wars and the government more than peak oil."

I wouldn't be afraid of the US starting another war anytime soon. We are broke. We can't handle another war, unless it is someone else's.

I guess you missed the president's speech last week. If nothing else, Bush/Cheney has faith in our military.

Bush/Cheney, aren't those the people who will leave office two years from now and will have to be guarded for the rest of their lives because 300 million Americans will want to kill them?


Yeah, the Army and Marines are pooped--but the Air Force is rested and ready to fly! And the Strategic Oil Reserve is plenty full, so what are we waiting for? Bring 'em on! We can't be held responsible for what we break, though.

Or as Greg Croft says...

The greatest danger from peak oil is that we will do something foolish in response to it.

RC known to you as ThatsItImout

The measure I prefer is

10 million barrels = 1 World Trade Center Tower

(So US daily consumption = both towers - not sure if this is an irony)

i agree that the unit of measure for crude oil is quaint and meaningless but cmo ? i dont see a problem with cubic meters. it's easy to visualize and as far as expressing large volumes what is wrong with powers of 10 (except of course that our brilliant leaders for the most part don't have a clue of what that is about)

memo to taxpayers : gwb has run up at $ 3 x 10^12 debt on YOUR credit card

Love it!  

Simply assume you've got about 50
of these oil cubes left to recover

By comparison,

Greenland is losing 52 cubic miles of
ice each year, more than anticipated.

Great graphic, Dave.

Oh, and ice melt is accelerating...and you're only looking at Greenland.

So much for the free lunch idea. We thought we had one...well, the party was great while it lasted.

What would make that a truly astounding graphic would be to depict the annual Greenland ice-melt alongside the annual oil consumption cube alongside the Eiffel Tower (or WTC or other landmark building)

Hi folks,

Just one word: plastics.

Ok. A few more words. I am trying to remember, how much of the oil we pump is used for plastic production? I've heard that it is about half.

This becomes very interesting because you really can't change wind, water, and solar directly into plastics. Yes we can grow some plastic from vegetable stocks but as we know from other discussions, extensive, high production agriculture is very energy (oil) intensive.

And as an interesting aside, since we basically shifted to plastics for garment production, the issue of clothing 5 billion (and growing) people becomes very interesting. There isn't enough land on the planet to grow the cotton, hemp, and flax that we would need to cloth the planet.

I wonder at what point we will hit peak nekkidness?

I can't find the link right now but BP made a nifty chart a couple of years ago showing how hydrocarbon resources were used. As I recall most plastics are made from natural gas, not oil. And the amound was pretty small, maybe 4-5%.

to my knowlege, 4% of oil is made into plastics.

Some more details about "Plastics" here.

And from the same web page, re The Price of Plastics, click here.

You may want to link from that page to their articles on "petroleum" and on "The Future of Oil" and of course, Hubbert Peak Theory

(P.S. OK. I see. They lift their material from Wiki. But these QuickSeek pages are less cluttered and easier to read IMO)

"Ok. A few more words. I am trying to remember, how much of the oil we pump is used for plastic production? I've heard that it is about half."

US plastics production in 2002 seems to have been around 110 billion pounds a year. At the same time US oil use was some 20million barrels/day. A barrel weighs some 0.136 tons i.e. roughly 300lbs (if I am not mistaken with english units... I am normally an SI guy!). In other words, we are dealing with some 6 billion lbs of oil a day, but only 110 billion tons of plastics a year. This makes for roughly 18.3 days worth of oil (at 100% conversion by weight) and approx. 5% oil in weight in total.

Now... hydrocarbon compounds in oil are certainly not all suitable monomers for the plastics industry (and I need a chemist to quantify that), so it might be that 50% of the oil that gets processed has those suitable monomers extracted from it for the plastics industry, but that is not the same thing as using half the oil to make plastics.

So what happened if we had less oil to get the monomers out?

1) Some plastics products would become more expensive.
2) There would be more recycling.
3) Plastics manufacturing would start to use more expensive and probably less efficient processes to convert cheap and plentiful monomers to more expensive rare ones.

And if there was no oil whatsoever? Well, we would be synthesizing monomers from carbohydrates and alcohols using vast amounts of solar/wind/nuclear energy. This would certainly be extraordinarily expensive in comprison to today's prices. But I don't expect this to happen anytime soon. Even with all remaining oil wells operating at an EROEI<1, extracting oil for the chemical industry at net energy loss might be highly profitable.

"Hi folks,

Just one word: plastics."

News headline 2050. US invaded again for the "plastics reserves" held in it's landfills. The US has the worlds largest plastic reserves on the planet now. President GWB III and VP Chenny III are trying to mobilize the christerrorists to scrape the plutonium off the ground in Bagdad to make a dirty bomb...

drive to any suburb around here and you will find a KSA in plastic deposits what we need is an energy efficient way to recycle all that vinyl siding into reserves (useable products)

The oil price briefly dropped below $50 a barrel today.

Look out below, prices will drop further.....

The question I think is not can we do this (massive build) but should we do this?

Ok, we build all this stuff, and in 50 years we are RIGHT where we are ONLY with MORE people. (Bartlett's Population progressions)

The question should be: What SHOULD we Do?
With 6 billion INDIVIDUALs the chances of agreements is going to be tough.

Well, from all said there is something that stares at us. All what is discussed here and in many other places was prognosed in 1971 and ridiculed (mostly) all the time from then. When Club of Rome published its 'Limits of Growth' nobody believed it, everybody discussed it and the conclusion was we cannot prove the publication was right or wrong. Though, if they managed to come to their conclusions using most basic computer power available at that time, the analyzed problem was not really very difficult to tackle.
The answer is that there is NOTHING WE CAN DO. We whistled away the only chance we had. It is impossible to have permanent growth in a closed system. Fullstop. This is not a problem to understand at all, even for a high school graduate. It is only very difficult subject for ministers of finance, politicians and similar lowlife.
As result, there is not going to be any significant increase in the planet population; quite opposite. Whether this will be from slow starvation or from efficient 'eradication' by various arsenals is immaterial. The underlying cause is LACK OF RESOURCES; from this point oil being the main lacking resource. Before that happens (in the next 30 years) we will mess up the climate and make the planet less hospitable anyway. The idea that we can turn the events against the principles of thermodynamics (and this is in fact what some hope we can do, in their ignorance) is a proof that with all the brains we have, we are not different from any other form of life on the planet. Multiply as much as you can and disappear when circumstances change.

A decrease in population is the only sure bet. No other organism (that I can think of) has been allowed to do what the humans have done to the environment and been allowed by Mother Nature to continue. We've become a cancer. I find all the projections about supply and demand in the future futile. They are all based on past and current trends of "life as we know it". We ain't gonna know it like that in the future... and not too distant future at that. Looking into my crystal ball, or is it opaque, hard to see through the pollution... I see lots of people dying so that others can continue to live some sort of life on earth... oops! turns out it's not the future at all - it's now and the people dying are in Africa.

Here's a link, with lots of graphs of the alternative scenarios discussed by the Club of Rome: .

Actually, not only did this report never foresee the end of oil for 2000, but it didn't foresee anything else in a precise way. Its sole strong conclusion is that perpetual material growth will lead sooner or later to a "collapse" of the world that we live in, and that, even with very optimistic hypothesis regarding the development of efficient technologies to come, the ability to recycle or to save natural resources, the mitigation of pollution, or the initial stock of non renewable resources that we begin with (the high end of the bracket for the initial stock of non renewable resources was 5 times the known reserves in 1970, and, for oil, that leads to higher reserves in 2000 than what we really have today, given what we have consumed meanwhile ; I checked !), this collapse will happen before 2100.

Very correct, the Club of Rome never foresaw the end of oil or end of any specific thing. But, it very firmly stated (in 1971!) that if we continue in the same way as was the case then, we will destroy ourselves by overpopulation and/or resource depletion and/or destruction of environment. We never changed the course; we even more firmly continued on a totally unsustainable path. Peak oil is the first effect we see when we talk about resources. Environment destruction is obvious everywhere, with ecosystems vanishing in front of our eyes. Whether we want to see that or not, whether we change the course (too late!) or decide to trade the CO2 certificates like this will change the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, it all is completely meaningless in terms of the final outcome. Club of Rome proposed 'immediate action' and instead, what did we do? We did the same thing as European commission did this year when they had to limit fishing in the North Sea. It was politically impossible to do anything so nothing was done. The quotas were decreased 14% in the situation when it was necessary to decrease them 60-70% to allow stock to replenish. The problem is, and will always be, that when an action produces delayed result(s), all involved will likely leave the results to be dealt with by some future people.

with all the brains we have, we are not different from any other form of life on the planet

Very funny.

If you understand "evolution" then you should also understand that the current human brain "evolved" randomly from the primoidal reptile brain. Not only are we no different than other forms of life, we are just another dot on the spectrum of neuro-evolution.

(Click on picture for more information --> )
((actually you should start here))

I must clarify myself: consciousness is what makes us different (at least this is what we believe). If we take this for granted, the fact is that it did not affect our fate as a form of life at all. Except in the fact that we succumb to delusions that we are different because we are aware of ourselves what helps us to affect our destiny; steer it as we like. While even a six year old, when seeing five gold fish in the pond and someone fishing in the same pond will ask 'what will happen when all five fish will be caught', we as a civilization fail to understand that the same applies to all ponds, even the biggest ones. We somehow fail to see the reality. Proofs are everywhere; from the destruction of sardine ecosystem in waters of California to destruction of cod in Grands banks. Oil is not a different case; it is only a different resource. While we could have saved the certain ecosystems that can recover, we failed to to that. And we apply the same thinking (or lack of it!) to oil.... How can we therefore expect a different outcome?
All these stories about making solar panels instead of cars are fine but this won't work in the present economy. How many people can afford a $30,000 solar panel system - today? And how many will be able to afford it tomorrow, with oil disappearing? Less or more? As price of oil goes up, the price of panel will go up but at the same time, economy will start crashing with less and less personal income available for extravagances like $30,000 solar panels.
In other words, the input of free energy that this civilization enjoyed for over 100 years made from H. Sapiens a being that can not survive disappearance of this energy supply. We can survive as individuals, here and there, in social forms which today look extremely odd. But our today's social system including economy is a basket case.

consciousness is what makes us different (at least this is what we believe)

My dog is conscious.
Right now she wants a walk.

After that, she'll want dog food in her plate.
She won't care that it came here in a big truck and then I had to drive to PetCo to pick it up. All she wants to know is that it's here --at the moment her consciousness lets her know she is hungry. :-)

BTW, she does tricks.

Go get your leash girl. Go!
Damn it. Do I have to do everything?

Fascinating comparisions indeed. Interestingly, the least complex device shown, and with the largest usable siting, would be the solar panel.

But of course, we know that building 91 million solar panels in a year, with the amount of material and fabrication involved, would be utterly incomprensible, don't we?

Well, 63 million autos and light trucks were built in 2005. Think about that, 63 million. Is the solar panel greatly more complex than an automobile, with it's multiple electric motors, alternator and battery, transmission, climate control, and on board computers. hmmmm....

What people often fail to think about is that for all those billions of barrels of oil used each year, required are rather complex conversion devices, and those had to be built somewhere, in manufacturing plants, with labor and raw materials conversion on a massive scale. The oil is not just poured out onto the ground.

Is not interesting that conceiving of millions of manufactured items that can produce power is ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE for the human mind, and yet we have no problem whatsoever conceiving of millions of very complex objects to consume the power? Interesting psychologicla for the psychologists I guess.....

Roger Conner known to you as ThatsItImout

Yes, Roger, that is interesting... and while we're at it, couldn't we build a solar panel mounting device that tracks with the sun so the output can be maximized? I'm all for subsidizing solar panels with a minimal cost to the user. Heck, the big three got their products subsidized (still do) and they charge $25K - $30K per vehicle. That's what an unsubsidized solar system cost now for a modest house. Wow, just think, they could be practically free!

Let me tell you, that’s a very eerie picture.

Recently I was told to imagine that you are at Niagria Falls ...

You watch the flow of water over both falls .. for 90 minutes (1 1/2 hours) ..

That is how much oil is consumed every day

Good article:

"Petrodollars, Asset Prices, and the Global Financial System"

It is no secret that oil producers have reaped an enormous windfall from the surge in energy prices in recent years. And with painful memories of boom-bust oil cycles of the past, the recipients are saving the lion’s share of the windfall this time. The result has been extraordinary, with oil exporters pouring well over $1 trillion into global financial markets since 2001.

Where is this tide of petrodollars going? That is more of a secret. Notwithstanding a growing number of high-profile acquisitions – like the contested purchase of P&O’s global port operations by Dubai Ports World – the bulk of total oil savings are flowing into financial instruments, including bonds, equities, and bank deposits. Some funds are being managed directly by oil exporters, while others are being placed with external investment managers like PIMCO. All of these factors make oil investments exceptionally difficult to track.

Yet understanding petrodollars is fundamental to thinking about where international financial markets have been in recent years and where they are going. The governments of oil-producing countries are now the largest single source of global savings, surpassing Asian governments in 2005 and on track to add some half a trillion dollars in assets in 2006 alone,

A small problem is , what oil ????
each field has different composition , viscosity , heating power
and require different cost of refining .
it work fine only as an order of magnitude , +/- 50%
to follows your though , a good unit would be the quantity of energy
needed to heat one cubic kilometer of pure water by one degree C
guess what , it exist already it's called a calorie 10^12 ( I hope I didn't stuff the arithmetic )