Hall and Gagnon: "A Very Bad Idea"

[ED by PG: Comments are now turned on for this post, and I am repromoting it. Apologies--a setting was missed.]

This is a guest op-ed by Charles Hall and Nate Gagnon.

Dr. Charles Hall is a Systems Ecologist who has written seven books and 200 scholarly articles; Professor Hall teaches Systems Ecology and Geographical Modeling courses and workshops at SUNY-ESF and in many locations in Latin America. Nathan Gagnon is a graduate student in the Graduate Program in Environmental Sciences at the State Univ NY College of Environmental Science and Forestry; his interests are the changing EROI of global and US oil.

The recent front page article “Oil innovations pump new life into old wells” by Jad Mouawad (March 5 page 1) is dangerously misleading. The author would have us believe that technological innovations will increase the proportion of oil recoverable from known fields sufficiently to compensate for the dearth of new discoveries. It gives a false sense of security about our difficult oil situation based on a very selective interpretation of data.

For example, the graph used to support the article undermines the author’s main thesis. It shows that steam injection is not new but has been used in the Kern River field since 1965 and also that oil production in this field peaked in 1984 and has been declining sharply since about 1997. In fact most of the “oil innovations” mentioned in the article, including the injection of steam and various gases, are old technologies, first implemented in the 1920s. Innovations have always been occurring in the oil industry. The important question is whether these technologies are increasing production more rapidly than depletion is decreasing it.

Considerable information indicates that depletion is a more important force in petroleum extraction than is technological development. The increases in production from the Kern River and Duri fields that the article mentions, and indeed even from the much larger Alberta and Orinoco Tar sands deposits, are small relative to the far larger production declines from many of the world’s most important oil fields, including the North Sea, Cantarell in Mexico (recently the world’s second largest producer), America’s largest fields including Prudhoe Bay, East Texas and Yates, Samotlor in Russia, Yibal in Oman, Rabi-Kounga in Gabon, probably Burgan in Kuwait and so on.

All of these fields have been subject to the kind of technologies mentioned in the Mouawad article, sometimes for many decades, and all except possibly Burgan are clearly in steep decline or have virtually ceased production. The best oil field technology in the world has not stopped the US production from declining by 50 percent since its peak in 1970. Likewise clear peaks in oil production have occurred in such important producers as Argentina, China, Egypt, Indonesia (a founding member of OPEC), Mexico, Norway and the United Kingdom, even while prices were increasing. It is not clear yet whether modern technologies such as horizontal drilling will principally increase total yields or simply increase rates of extraction.

Furthermore, many of the technologies mentioned in the article tend to be extremely expensive. This is so not only in dollars but also in energy. The importance of the increasing energy cost has been documented in reports, published in quality journals, that show that the energy return on investment (EROI) for US domestic oil production has dropped from greater than 100 Btu returned per Btu invested in the 1930s to about thirty to one in the 1970s to perhaps 15 to one in 2000. Our research indicates a similar declining trend for world oil. Making steam and pumping it into the ground, or moving gases from their source points to dispersed oil-field sites, requires enormous investments of energy. Thus while increasing prices can indeed make more low-quality resources economically available they generally also mean that more energy is being expended relative to production returns. Eventually we may reach the energy break even point. Thus much of the oil cited as “probable” or “contingent” reserves is unlikely to be worth exploiting regardless of price

The article’s dismissive comments about peak oil theory and its advocates are ill informed and ignore the importance of the message coming from a sophisticated and growing community that includes many hundreds of geologists, other scientists, environmentalists, financiers and citizens who see a serious situation ahead of us for oil and, especially in North America, natural gas. Whether peak oil production (or as has been suggested an “undulating plateau”) has occurred, is occurring now or will not occur for several years or possibly decades makes little difference from the perspective of the life times of our children. Hiding our heads in the sand and putting our faith in technological developments that so far have been unable to compensate for most depletion seems to us to be a very bad idea.

Hi Charles, and Nate,

Thanks and...(gosh, well, I'll comment).

I appreciate your taking the time to address this article. Anecdotally, I was amazed when an otherwise well-informed friend was "taken in" by the article, and wrote to assure me that "peak" is far off.

Just a couple of suggestions for future reference:

re: "It is not clear yet whether modern technologies such as horizontal drilling will principally increase total yields or simply increase rates of extraction."

It might be good to put some boundaries on this. In other words, to first put "technologies" in context of the world picture (i.e., 13 of 14 super-giants are in confirmed decline, except for our much-discussed Ghawar).

"Greyzone" put some helpful numbers in his summary the other day, drawing a picture of the context. This was in DB (?) of April 20 (I believe. I'll see if I can find it in a minute, so as not to lose my post.)

It's good you mention "...the world's most important fields". It's just that (IMHO), the picture is more clear when one specifies how many important fields there actually are, and what their condition is.

Then, perhaps to draw some outlines about the "best possible" case of "increasing total yields". How much might we expect to see? How would we know? etc. In other words, even the *best case* of the scenario of increasing yields has the effect of...(what?)

In other words, put some bounds on the Q you pose - "extraction rate v. total yield"?

re: Further up, you say "The important question is whether these technologies are increasing production more rapidly than depletion is decreasing it."

So, early in the article you pose the "important question" and then, further down, you say the answer is unknown.

The "unknown" - without more specific boundaries - kind of opens the door to the author's original diversion. (Just my 2 cents.)

Perhaps think about clarifying this, and perhaps framing your next points in terms of questions, as well. They are essential points. My suggestion would be to send your main point (energy/money return) around for some editorial suggestions, since you're writing for the "lay persons(s)".

And, of course, I like it that you defend "peak oil advocates"; I'd suggest perhaps "naming names".

re: "...faith in technological developments..."

Well, you know - they've worked so far, in general, from the POV of many, even most, Americans.

They see this trend, and cannot imagine the problems of "unwinding". Your article is an excellent beginning; my little 2 cents would be to try to develop a line of thinking that begins with some identification of why people might be biased *toward* the innovation in technology. When what we need is innovation, all right - in design, in economic arrangements,etc. - in how to deal with something that looks as formidable as what we face.

by the way, my apologies. there's a setting on the post that turns off comments to this one that I apparently hit by mistake...I kept wondering why no one was commenting, then Leanan emailed me ask why comments were turned off...!

May I suggest a rule of thumb, Prof. Goose? If you post something and don't see comments within the first hour after the post, then check the "no comments" flag immediately. This has occurred multiple times since the software changeover so apparently it is easy for you and others to do.

No comments from this crowd? Never! Well, almost never, unless you've set the flag. So if you don't see comments, check the flag!

Ghawar Is Dying
The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function. - Dr. Albert Bartlett

had someone sent an email to the eds box it would have been noted even sooner.

Some revisionist thoughts to my original comment:

Professor Ostrich: Hmmm... No comments down here either.

RE your slide #12 in "EROI: The Key Variable in Assessing Alternative Energy Futures", presented at ASPO 5 (and elsewhere), please explain why you rate the EROI of coal so highly and of nuclear so low? Discussion of each on TOD over the last couple of months suggests that the amount of easy coal is overstated, and the long term EROI of nuclear is much better than many suggest.

Prof. Goose, thanks for turning on the comments feature, I was wondering...

John Greer remarks here (Energy Bulletin) regarding our belief in the Church of the Perpetual Progress.

This concept of new "innovations" bringing salvation and resurrection back to our defunct oil wells sure sounds like a religion. Shouldn't there be a Bible to go along with this new found religion? (The Good News Gospel of Yergin perhaps?)

you mention burgan and i wonder what is going on there. the field has been in production for decades. some sources list ultimate recoverys equal to ghawar. the spe abstracts give some tantalizing info. maybe we could get the reservoir dogs to sniff this out like they have done for ghawar (i am no longer a member of spe).

Thanks for your comments. I too had a visceral response to this article when it was published. It was well-written, and clearly had research and facts behind. But there seemed to be a strange tone to me: it felt like disinformation.

The New York Times on the Web lists 238 articles authored or co-authored by Jad Mouawad. He specialises in reporting on oil supply issues, and has written broadly and long enough to be well-versed. He writes well.

Mouawad clearly talked to several sources, and apparently traveled to pull together the information for the article. My guess is that the reportage is accurate in a very narrow sense. If we were to go out and check the specific numbers, claims, and success stories, I’d bet they could all be verified.

The problem, however, is one of perspective. Are these small successes representative of what could be done on a broader scale? No, for all of the reasons you point out. And, by that criterion, the article is misleading.

So how do we explain such an apparent faux pas by an experienced journalist? One possibility is that oil company corporate public relations firms had a finger in this, and provided selective access to really encouraging projects. That’s plausible, but hard to verify from the outside.

A simpler explanation: consider the concept of “embedded journalists” in Iraq. When you are living with the troops, and sharing their victories, defeats, and hardships on a daily basis, it’s no surprise when the reporting becomes co-opted, and takes on a warm bias. I can easily imagine the same thing happening here.

Jad Mouawad makes a living reporting on oil issues, and cultivating sources within the oil industry worldwide. He’s embedded in the industry. As Ken Deffeyes points out, oil industry veterans are highly optimistic by nature. They need to be to overcome the long odds of the oil industry. This article may be explainable simply as the infectious optimism of the engineers spilling over into the tone of the journalist who is covering them.

Keeping a clear watch and commentary on the media is essential to bring accuracy into the debate on peak oil. We cannot allow peak oil to become as muddled and poorly-informed in the public mind as anthropogenic climate change was. And that is a challenge.

As Rick says, "it felt like disinformation." Well, not only did it feel like it, it worked as such.

I had mentioned to my brother how I was concerned about peak oil. When this article was published he emailed it to me (which I'd already seen) with the following message: "We may not be at peak oil yet -- don't underestimate the power of human ingenuity when there is a profit to be made!"

In a reply of my own words and understanding I deconstructed the misinformation contained therein, but because I'm not a specialist in such a field of study I knew he'd be dismissive toward my thoughts. After all, at least in his mind, the NYTimes is more trustworthy than me!

I also followed up with Dave Cohen's ASPO critique and links to some other PO points of view to not much avail.

The bottom line is that the NYTimes deserves to be roundly criticized for such poor reporting. It happens in their pages all the time. Unfortunately, as good as this critiquing gets, unless it gets acknowledged in their pages (with the same front page coverage) the corrections go mostly unnoticed and the misinformation unabashedly continues.

So far as the NYTimes is concerned, Peak Oil concerns are worthy only of dismissal, not a full bodied debate. When it comes to peak oil coverage and the NYTimes, that's like looking for Iraq's WMD.

I had mentioned to my brother how I was concerned about peak oil. When this article was published he emailed it to me (which I'd already seen) with the following message:"We may not be at peak oil yet -- don't underestimate the power of human ingenuity when there is a profit to be made!"

Join the club.
Just to save time I think we should ask TODers who didn't get that article from a relative to post.


You requested, "Just to save time I think we should ask TODers who didn't get that article from a relative to post."

First, I did not get the article from a relative, but saw extractions from it in another energy story. However, the fact that several TOD posters did get it from a relative points to an interesting dynamic: While many TOD folks feel it is an important mission to inform the poor unknowing "sheepies", it seems that many relatives of "peakers" are now convinced that it is important to send informational articles to their doom preaching relatives and attempt to save them from falling off the deep end by exposing them to a dose of "reality" as the world sees it! The battle of the news stories is under way!

NOW, to the story itself, and why it fascinates (I speak for myself at least).
Robert Rapier touched on the core issue the other day, in relation to the API conference call, namely: How is that some, after much study, can be absolutely convinced that peak is soon, if not already here, while others, after equal amounts of study, be absolutely convinced that there are certainly challenges in the energy business to be met, but there is no need for deep concern (or any real concern actually) about a near term peak?

This is why the public is reluctant to follow any radical advice concerning energy policy and personal planning relating to energy. I know of few people convinced enough of catastrophic collapse that they are dumping their 401K and heading into the hills with a copy of "The Idiots Guide To Plowing With Jackass and Oxen". At the same time, I know of no one with the balls to short sell oil at $35 a barrel.

Let us turn to some of the lines from the article under discussion:

“Oil companies are returning to old or mature fields partly because there are few virgin places left to explore, and, of those, few are open to investors.”

That's an interesting sentence. "Few virgin places to explore" would seem to indicate that anywhere that can be explored has been. But, the somewhat disclaiming clause, " few are open to investors" complicates matters considerably. This is one reason that looking at the production of the major private independent oil companies no longer tells us much. The ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips type firms are being pushed off the oil table. Their production could drop by half in the next few years, while the nationalized oil companies of Saudi Arabia, Russia and others could rise to fill the gap.

Of Aramco and the Saudi's, to quote the article:

"Nansen G. Saleri, the head of reservoir management at the state-owned Saudi Aramco...said that Saudi Arabia’s total reserves were almost three times higher that the kingdom’s officially published figure of 260 billion barrels, or about a quarter of the world’s proven total."

"He estimated the kingdom’s resources at 716 billion barrels, including oil that has already been produced as well as more uncertain reserves. And thanks to more sophisticated technology, Mr. Saleri said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if ultimate reserves in Saudi Arabia eventually reached 1 trillion barrels.
Even if the Saudi estimates are impossible to verify..."

Hmmm, 1 trillion barrels in KSA alone! Wouldn't that be a kick? But, as the sentence says, "Even if the Saudi estimates are impossible to verify...". It would have been more accurate to say, "even though Saudi estimates are impossible to verify", because there is no "if" about it. But the sentence contains much more...."including oil that has already been produced as well as more uncertain reserves." So are we are talking about original oil in place?

"More uncertain reserves" is an understatement. While many, such as Matthew Simmons assure us that KSA has been overexplored and that almost every inch of Saudi territory is well known as far as potential oil goes, just as surely, the head of the API in the conference call assured us that less than 3% has been completely explored, and gives that number as though it were an accepted statistic. What's a fellow to think?

What we see are astounding differences between people in the energy business and well known "experts" on both sides, so astounding in fact to have led one commentator to say that one side or the other were complete idiots, or outright liars....he didn't know which was the case, he said, but neither case should be at all comforting when we are dealing with the lifeblood of the world economy.

We have seen above a difference between barely 2 trillion barrels and possibly 6 trillion in estimates of world reserves remaining, a difference betwen 260 billion and 1 trillion in discussion of Saudi reserves, between 3% and 100% in how much of Saudi Arabia has been explored (depending on how you define "explored"), and we know the difference between for example "Peakers" of the TOD school and the API just the other day of "peak already past" to "possible peak as early as 2044". That's a gap of roughly 50 years, or easily a quater of the whole oil age to that late date of 2044! In the meantime, the U.S. government DOE's Energy Information Agency (EIA) says not to worry, the price of oil, natural gas and electricity are about as high right now today as they will be out to 2030 (!)

And when we introduce technology into the mix, How wrong could we all be?
We have seen this before. In 1989, I bought and read one of the few books I have ever bought new (I prefer the library, or waiting for them to be "remaindered down", most writers words will not spoil by a brief delay, if they are truly important words), a book called
"A Gale of Creative Destruction: The Coming Economic Boom, 1992-2020"
by Myron H. Ross.

I read it, traded among a few close friends who had brains in my view.
And then we laughed. What a far fetched notion, that technology would create a revolution in computers, and software, and energy, and in that span of time! What a bunch of "techno" fix nonsense, with America in debt, the Japanese eating us for lunch, and demographics working against us!

Of course, at that time, no one except a handfull of technical dreamers had even thought of "the internet", the "wireless revolution", biotech crops, thin film solar cells, or drilling for and finding oil so far out to sea that the real problem would be how to get it ashore.

We laughed. And missed some of the greatest wealth building opportunities in world history. We laughed, while other nations prospered, we bought Walmart. We laughed, while the groundwork for the future was being laid, we now panic at the prospect of a single digit drop in oil production, because we have built few options, while others have built the windmills and are building the advanced solar panels we will end up buying.
We're not laughing now.

Many are crying sour grapes...."well, technology can't change things", while refusing to admit that oil and gas are technologies....if we have an energy problem, it IS a technical problem before it is anything else....how can we say technology is powerful enough to get us into a problem, and then say technology has no power to change the world?....the oil and gas industry haters claim it has the power to destroy the world! Without technology, oil is a smelly sticky goo that simply gets in the way.

The NYT article may not be the best ever written, but given the level of knowledge, real knowledge, on all sides as it relates to energy, technology, possible peak, and the future, it is about as good as anything else out there. And about as bad.
Thank you.

Roger Conner Jr.
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

Hi Roger,

Interesting thoughts. In my case, I believe my friend wanted to reassure me - wanted me to *feel* better, emotionally. This friend (as most) has expressed no interest (zero) in looking into the topic in any (scientific style of) detail.

So...on to Mr. Cavaney. A couple of comments:

1) I went back and looked up the sentence you're talking about and here it is:

"For example, only three percent of the exploration that’s taken place in the Middle East, even though they’ve got, you know 70 percent of the proven reserves, in Saudi Arabia alone, which most people would argue has probably got a fair amount of oil there, they had fewer than 300 new exploratory wells that have drilled, and less than 30 of them were drilled since 1995."

Actually, this doesn't really make literal sense. Does it?

Is he saying *of the entire amount (in what terms, dollars? Time? what?)* that's taken place (since the beginning of the oil age- ?), only 3% of it has taken place in the Middle East?

Or, is he saying actually what the words say, namely "...only three percent of the exploration that’s taken place in the Middle East..." is what? Does what? is characterized by what?

Anyway, to me this doesn't really make sense. It's an incomplete sentence. Also, the references are confused. In just terms of trying to read it as a sentence, he switches between "Middle East" and "Saudi Arabia", etc. - I'm not sure what the subjects and objects of the sentence are.

I'm not in the mood to try to listen to the original, it may just be a transcription oversight. To me, I don't get what he's trying to say.

So, is he saying Iraq and Iran are relatively unexplored? Then, my question is: what counts as "exploration"? What are the criteria? What's the relevance of exploration history to any point he may be trying to make? (And what is the point he's trying to make?)

Anyway, I left a rather lengthy (but I like it! And hope *someone* reads it!) comment back under the API post, to follow-up on Robert's kind decision to answer my questions.
This is regarding what Red Cavaney says.

2) I'm in empathy (or would like to be) regarding missed opportunities of all sorts. I hope we can have better ways to deal with opportunities (speaking, at least, for myself and wishing the best for you.)

This is kind of a lead-up, though, to what seems to be your point about technology.

re: ""well, technology can't change things", while refusing to admit that oil and gas are technologies....if we have an energy problem, it IS a technical problem before it is anything else....how can we say technology is powerful enough to get us into a problem, and then say technology has no power to change the world?"

My views are somewhat different, so I don't know who exactly you're talking about.

I would say, though, that we need both parts - both the Nature-given resource *and* the human-invented extraction technologies in order to make use of oil.

Technology can "change the world", though it's probably a better discussion to be more specific.

The problem with energy, though, is that we face a problem more complex than a simple technological extraction problem.

That's the focus of much of our discussion here.

That's the point the NYTimes article seemed to (almost deliberately) overlook.

This ends up being misleading - to leave out the Nature-supplied side of the picture. That's what I was upset about. To leave this aspect out ends up doing a real disservice to people, because, for one thing, it may prevent "reality-based planning" (as Alan would say), in that we need other things, too (in the very least): new design, conservation and means to prioritize energy use, while still meeting needs.


Hello and thanks for the reply and interesting thoughts...first, in relation to Mr. Cavaney's remarks, not only in the case of the sentence we are discussing, but in several cases, I agree completely with you that the logic was often a bit hard to follow....he was speaking off the cuff, so I was forgiving of that, but his remarks in the case I cited are part of an ongoing debate: Exactly how completely is the true geological structure -oil bearing structure that is of Saudi Arabia known to the world? Could there be other fields comparable to their "super giant fields" still out there in the empty quarter, or off shore in some of the shallowest easiest to exploit waters in the world that have gone unexplored and unexploited to date? What was the incentive for exploration in the 1980's-'90's when oil was givaway cheap, and Saudi Arabia could deliver all the oil called for without real effort? Or, as Matthew Simmons says, is Saudi Arabia pretty much completely explored?
This argument did not begin with Cavaney, he is simply repeating the core of a longstanding argument, and taking one side (that Saudi Arabia and or the Middle East is still pretty much unexplored in many ways).

If one accepts Cavaney's view of the argument, then there is no real geological limit to worry about in the near future, and the NYT article would not be a diliberate omission, but instead would be what they percieve as the true world oil picture. They, like many, simply do not accept a near term geological limit, but see it all as being about money, will, and technology.

As far as technology goes, my reference was to those who see the energy problem as more of a social/cultural, even moral problem than a technical one. James Howard Kunstler and Richard Heinberg among others come to mind. Does anyone believe that if the energy problem were to be resolved on a technical and carbon release front, these guys would suddenly endorse the American suburban capitalist way of life? To my understanding of their writing, they detest the whole American structure, and see the possibility of a coming collapse of it as something that can only be brought about by a powerful force, i.e. Peak Oil is more of a tool than a challenge to be overcome.

It goes without saying that I personally find that view abhorrent to everything I believe in. I do accept the real possibility of peak soon, but I do not accept that it is assured, I simply cannot know. I also accept the possibility of a complete collapse of the modern way of existence we have come to know, but again, do not accept it as an assured outcome of peak oil, and certainly in no way accept it as a positive outcome. I also accept a "reality based planning" view that accepts the limits placed on us by nature, but I do not accept that these limits are as narrow as oil/gas based culture would indicate.

I like your sentence, "The problem with energy, though, is that we face a problem more complex than a simple technological extraction problem."

So true, and our range of solutions are so much greater than simply, "Go find more oil, at any cost." However, here at TOD, the operative view seems to be that if you attempt to visualize other options (renewables, hydrogen from renewables, elegant design that reduces consumption) you are a pie in the sky "techno fix" dreamer, and are denigrated as a childlike figure who is too ignorant to see the false dream that is technological improvement.

One wonders if these folks view pioneers such as Carl Benz, the Wright brothers and Robert Goddard as childlike figures who could not understand that technological ideas were foolish and for dreamers and schemers. This cuts to the heart of a deep philosophical and aesthetic discussion: Is technology, the hard earned applied technology that we know today, and that so many generations gave so much to see brought to fruition a false delusion and a waste of time? If so, what should we have been doing all those centuries we played with science, technology and engineering? Are we declaring the scientific/technical efforts of mankind a dead end and abandoning them?

If so, Peak Oil will not be required to end the modern age. It will die due to lack of interest.

This is a very personal view on my part, but I think that even the possibility of peak oil has opened the public forum to, and brought to our awareness issues that are far, far more dangerous than peak oil per se. We are beginning to discuss the heart and mind of a culture, and whether that culture still has the hearts and minds of it's people. We know now that it seems not to have the hearts and minds of at least a sizable minority of it's intellectuals and visionaries, a minority that is rapidly gaining a place in the public forum.

This is why all of those who consider themselves fellow travelers of the "Peak Oil" aware contingent must ask themselves what they want, what they truly believe the role of energy, technology and our modern culture should be, and if they believe it should continue to exist at all.
In the end, each of us must answer these questions for ourselves. Our time on Earth as living beings is limited. What do we really want, what do we consider a meaningful and "real" existence in our life, and what do want to leave behind for the next generation? This is what will determine the nature of our efforts far more than the amount of oil in the ground. Oil may in some ways limit or modify our options. It cannot change our goals, our dreams, our philosophy and our aesthetic view of life on Earth.

That was a long way of saying: Technology, and the way of existence it brings is a choice.

Damm, I hate having a discussion this good at the bottom of a dead string, but it is great fun to get to write it out and think about it!

Thanks for the opportunity to kick some big ideas around!

Roger Conner Jr.
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

Hi Roger,

Yes, well...everyone may have "moved on", but here I am coming back to catch up.

Main question: So, what are some of your ideas for the "best case" "best, most positive mitigation paths and strategies" WRT "peak"?

What are some of the "elegant designs" that strike you as being worthwhile?

Sincere questions.

Otherwise, re: "...Richard Heinberg among others come to mind. Does anyone believe that if the energy problem were to be resolved on a technical and carbon release front, these guys would suddenly endorse the American suburban capitalist way of life?"

I have to say, I'm kind of biased about Richard, because I've met him and have a sense of trust and confidence in him. I stay away from Kunstler's work, not because his points are invalid, more one of just personal taste.

My sense of Richard is that he is working from a reasoned and caring viewpoint. His approach is calm and deliberate, and my impression is - he's come to most of his concerns out of open-ended exploration, not visa versa. Or course, I do not know for sure.

In terms of "resolved", well, we're still left with the unhappy idea of the finiteness of resources.

In general, growth cannot continue unabated. But that's something you know...?

Aniya, glad your still here, and hope you come back to check for a reply, the challenging questions you raise are too good not to want to discuss!

First you ask:
Main question: So, what are some of your ideas for the "best case" "best, most positive mitigation paths and strategies" WRT "peak"?

This is a broad enough subject to require a book, but let me go in the general direction that I have been developing (and not me alone but many others who are concerned about energy issues in the world).

1. I have come to believe that conservation and efficiency are the first and most cost effective means of stretching the world energy supply and reducing greenhouse gas. That is not a radical theory, it is often mentioned here at TOD. But by extension, I have come to a much more radical theory, being,

2. Conservation and efficiency will have to be essentially "transparent",
that is to say, the average consumer/customer will have to be made to be efficient without even knowing it, and while suffering no major impact on the convenience/comfort of his/her lifestyle. In fact, it can be argued that the efficiency must actually enhance the comfort/convenience of lifestyle.

Why? Because most consumers will not, or, and this is important CANNOT reduce consumption if it involves a great change in lifestyle or great sacrifice.

We live in a very complex culture, and one with a rapidly growing population of elderly, single aging females, and professionally trained "information/clerical/office" workers. All these things combine to mean that our population is not only unwilling to suffer a huge change in living conditions, most cannot. Pure and simply, they would risk a rapidly declining level of health and well being and many would not survive.

I will use myself as an example: I was raised around farming. My grandfather had the closest thing one can imagine to a "survivalist" type farm. No running water, it came from a spring. We killed and ate chickens, beef, and pigs, gathered eggs as they were layed, milked cows, and had a wide variety of garden vegetables grown on the farm. He had two mules, which were worked well into the 1960's. Many years, he came to town perhaps twice or three times, to buy a few staples (salt, pepper, etc, that could not be grown) and to grind corn for corn meal, as he had no grinding mill (one had existed, driven by water on the creek on the farm, but it finally washed away in flooding, broke apart to the point it was not replaced) I know that one can survive in such an ultra low energy environment....except...

I suffer from severe hypertension, hereditary in nature. My grandfather suffered from it, eventually being disabled by a stroke, and having to be moved to a nursing home. My aunts, uncles, father and several cousins suffer from it, many younger than myself.

Without modern medication taken daily, our odds of survival begin to drop. In my own case, after about 48 hours, I begin to have "starburst" vision, and begn to become incoherent in writing, speech and comprehension. Within hours, my blood pressure will exceed "hypertension crisis level",
over 220/170 and I go to the emergency room to have it brought down by intravenous injection. So, all of my knowledge of how to survive in a primitive manner are of no benefit. I must work for the preservation of the modern age.

But I am only one of millions. Hypertension, diabetes, heart blockage, kidney and digestive issues affect tens of millions of Americans. Their ability to change lifestyle in a fundamental was is very limited.

"Elegant conservation' and efficiency must be almost invisible in nature.

Can this be done? Of course, but the design has be done very well. A few examples of elegant design already in use:

(a) Ground coupled heat pumps. These extract heat and cooling from the tempeture of the Earth, and avoid the wild swings of air tempeture in climate control. I have freinds who have them, and have almost forgotten they have them! Then, they have a dinner party, and hear some speak of what they are paying for natural gas heating or air conditioning costs. My heat pump owning friend was astounded! It was the first time he had heard of such prices! Surely, he said, you must be miscounting! That price can't be right can it? Have you called your gas company, maybe you have a leak!
THAT is elegant design!

(b) Transportation: Have you ever noticed the airfoil on the top of the cabs of tractor trailer trucks? In the early 1970's, those did not exist. NASA did wind tunnel studies in research to reduce fuel consumption in America, and pointed out that these could be of great benefit. Truck manufacturerers at first said they would install them on new trucks, the drivers would not like them. Fleet owners, when they saw the results and the potential savings of Diesel fuel (and money) thought otherwise, bought aftermarket versions of the airfoil spoilers, and had them installed. HUGE savings finally forced the truck manufacturers to build them into new trucks. The amount of Diesel fuel saved since the 1970's by these aerodynamic devices has been huge. And unlike other fuel saving devices, they were not abandoned in the later 1980's-90's when fuel prices dropped, because there was no sacrifice in using them, and people were used to the styling of them.
Elegant design!

At the same time, (late 1970's-early 1980's, a pharmacist friend of my families bought one of the Mercedes 300E series cars. He was smitten! The car was electronically governed to 143 miles per hour, comfortable, fast, and modern looking:

Named as one of the 20 greatest cars ever built, it is hard now to understand what a sensation this car was at the time. But, it was tricky! Through careful windtunnel testing, the car's aerodynamic drag was reduced by about a fourth compared to the model it replaced (but through details, no one could easily see where), and the drivetrain, with lockup torque converter, extra high top gear, and very efficient engine, was far more efficient than the car it replaced. The result was a car that would get easily 20% or more better fuel economy than the model it replaced, BUT was faster, quieter and more comfortable!
Elegant design!

Turning to the future, this is the type of design we must look for in alternatives:
It must reduce consuption of fossil fuel and or increase production of energy without increasing imput of fossil fuel, but do it without the customer really noticing it is happening. Below are some examples:

Confluence on the transportation front:
One of the most promising technologies is hydraulic hybrid drive:

This system holds the possibility of fuel savings of 70%, and greenhouse gas carbon emission reductions of 40% (as my friend above said in shock, can that be right?). The article linked above gives plenty of food for thought, but consider this: This sytem has possibility for use in school buses, sanitation trucks, mail delivery, RV and motorhomes, utility company service trucks, on and on. But what about private cars? A Diesel Mercedes sedan will currently get about 30 to 35 miles per gallon. Imagine a 70% fuel consumption savings on top of that, and you are looking at 50 miles per gallon plus, and this with a comfortable roomy sedan, and better acceleration from a standing start!
Elegant design!

The plug hybrid electric car has everything going for it, all we are waiting for is the batteries, and we are close. This is a car that several of my middle aged female friends are curious about, not for the fuel savings, but for the convenience of only having to go to the convenience store rarely to refuel.
For older women, it is easy to forget that the gasoline car entails some inconvenience. So used are they to not having to endure any discomfort they do now want to, it is becoming a real annoyance to them!

The greatest "transparent" alternative energy is solar. Placed on the roof of homes, businesses, warehouses, out of sight, out of mind, all the customer cares about is the cheap clean power, they do not care where it comes from:

Confuence on the solar front:




The confluence of CIS and CIGS (Copper, Indium, Gallium and Selenium) along with high concentrating solar collectors is moving now at a VERY fast pace.
What is lacking is development of electric storage technology, and integration of the advances into the grid system.

The variety of elegant solar solutions is much more varied than some realize:

Solar coupled with ground coupled heat pump can create shopping malls and office buildings that use less fossil fuel than a current private house, but the savings will create absolutely no discomfort to the users of the building.

Likewise, earth bermed architecture. many buildings are what the Germans once referred to as “facadentecture” in that they only put one face forward (one side) as an aesthetic front to the world, while the other sides of the building are nothing but warehouse looking sheer walls. Go around to the backside of most shopping malls, hospitals, and even schools and one sees this effect readily (have you ever been around to the backside of most Walmart stores?

If these buildings are oriented with the south side facing correctly, the other three sides can easily be bermed with earth, making them storm safe as well as hugely energy efficient. We could go on for days, but as we can see, there is plenty of work to be done. If I had a child with promising technical skills, I would encourage them into the field of alternative and efficient energy design, it is a growing field full of promise (unless the price of oil collapses, in which case....a person would have had a rewarding early career, and look for the switch....

Speaking of growing, your other major question:

"In general, growth cannot continue unabated. But that's something you know...?

In general, I agree. But, growth does not have to continue unabated for humans to have a fulfilling and decent life. And defining growth in anything better than "general" terms can be tricky.

In 1980, Alvin Toffler pointed up some of what he called the CODA of industrial civilization: The worship of growth was one of the codes, as was the cult of bigness, centralization, maximization, synchronization, and standardization. All these were considered at the heart of modern existance in an industrial modern culture.

But the definintion of "growth" has been very narrow. If one can go 100 miles on the same amount of fuel as it used to take to go 25 miles, is not that a type of growth, efficiency growth, that frees up wealth to do other things?
If by way of flattening population growth through the will of women and birth control, does not the wealth per capita grow (there is only two ways to grow per capita income....increase the income or hold down the per capita! :-)

Is it possble to develop new financial arrangements and tools to increase an individuals access to many assets, without the individual having to own them? If I can rent a race car the quality of an Indianapolis 500 racer and drive it a few times because I wanted to know what a thrill it would be, then turn it back to the owers to rent to someone else, would there be any need to ever build more than a handful of them? Likewise, a high speed boat, or a luxury condo on the beach for me and my mistress to play in once in a while? ;-)

Growth of human experience can be accomplished without exactly matching growth of oil consumption. And we must remember that oil and natural gas are only forms of energy. Energy on Earth, despite what some say, is NOT a closed system. This is why I am such a beliver in making the effort on solar energy. As solar collecting efficiencies grow, is that not a form of growth in the energy supply, more and more power, essentially extracted from thin air?
We need to study carefully what we mean when we say "growth". Again, the issue of transparency comes up: If people were enjoying as much freedom of movement as ever, and as much comfort and security as ever, and a vareity of interesting eperiences, would they know or care if the economy was "growing" per se, in the old definition?

Lastly, Richard Heinberg. Let me say that I have always enjoyed Richards writing and thinking, and do accept that he is sincere. I was not speaking ill of his work in anyway, he is sharp, and can build a convincing arguement.

My discussion centered around his core "philosophical" and aesthetic belief, and what he desires for the world. I really don't know. In his early work, he seems to at times have a great deal in common with the "deep green" or neo-primitivist philosophers. There are many among those groups who see anything that delays what they see as the inevitable collapse (because all cultures collapse someday) as a false path. Thus, technology is not something to be endorsed, even if it works very well, because the better it works, the longer it delays the inevitable collapse!

Heinberg does not seem to be that radical. I do know what he seems to be certain will happen. I just wonder what he wants to happen, in the deepest place in his heart. I do think Heinberg cares about people. I just sometimes wonder about many in the peak movement, and those aligned with the "deep green movement", as to whether they realize that the so called "sustainable" culture they sometimes describe will mean early death to many people, possibly as many as 100 million in the U.S. alone were it to actually come to pass. Of course, death will come to us all. In one way, one could say that the only truly "sustainable" course is suicide. But, I think we should try out some technical ideas first, just for fun! If we're all "Dead Men Walking" what harm can it do! :-)

Roger Conner Jr.
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

Please note that the "hydraulic hybrid" systems only achieve huge savings in very short stop-and-go cycles, such as garbage trucks moving from house to house.  Hybrids of any kind don't get much (if any) improvement at a steady pace on a road.

You're absolutely right about the standard of living issue; any claim that we must cut back and accept less leads to denial.  This is why the "Sustainability" proposal is aimed at supplying 100% of current end-use energy requirements for transport and electric.

Hi Roger and Engineer,

I appreciate your response, Roger, and just wanted you to know I did read it. Lots here to discuss.
Engineer: Thanks and,

re: "...the 'Sustainability' proposal..."

Could you please let me know what you're referring to here?

Just to make sure I do not accidently offend, when I used the term "sustainable" I was not referring to the work of Engineer Poet, but I was being deeply ironic regarding the ultra primitive version of it as described by the "deep green" or "neo-primitivist" camp.

I am still trying to digest the math and the ideas in what Engineer Poet calls "this monster". I admire the line of thinking very much, and when I first studied it, I of course began to think of the possibility of confluence with some of the ultra efficient "electric" based grid based work I was describing.

I hope Aniya checks it out, it as an eye opening line of thinking, and begins to lay down a possible road forward.

Roger Conner Jr
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom


Glad to see your in on the little "mini forum" of Aniya and myself! I wish we could get a string like this going with a few more participants.

First, on your assertion "Please note that the "hydraulic hybrid" systems and other hybrids only achieve huge savings in very short stop-and-go cycles, such as garbage trucks moving from house to house." I agree completely, that in steady state over the road work, the value of hybrids is greatly limited and will not make create nearly as much efficiency as in stop start driving, but they are not completely valueless there. I will return to that in a moment, but let's stay on the stop start driving in which they are strongest:

It is interesting to look at some of the vehicles that engage in a great deal of stop and start type work: You mentioned gargage trucks. Newspaper and mail delivery vehicles are similiar in use pattern, as are school buses, particularly in city school systems. Of course, delivery trucks and vans, such as UPS and FedEx, and Shwann's food delivery trucks would benefit.
A HUGE potential market is in city buses and cabs. One can see the possibility of a compressed natural gas or propane hydraulic hybrid bus or mini van cab vehicle. Nationwide, the savings could be considerable, and what we are after is to punch holes in consumption, without disrupting the culture before we move to methods of dismantling the culture. This should lead to a curve downward on consumption of oil and gas while "prosperity" in something close to it's current definition remains.

Now, to electric hybrids over the road, and also "plug hybrids: I do not now have it at my fingertips, but Car&Driver Magazine did a fascinating road drive in one of the Lexus Electric hybrid SUV's some year ago, from the coast of California up into the Sierra Mountains and back, typical "outing to the vacation home in the mountains" sort of thing.

They were smitten, and surprised, and these are guys who have a history of hard driving, not "tree hugger" soft peddlers by any stretch.

First, the electric hybrid, unlike the hydraulic hybrid, allows for longer range storage of power, thus, it becomes an exercise in long range energy conversion and return mathematics. Any round trip, no matter the distance, will involve uphill and downhill driving. The trip into the mountains was a perfect example, in that most of the trip to the cabin in the hills was uphill. Needless to say, the hybrid effect was nil, and Car&Driver testers were disappointed by the mileage of the hybrid going to the cabin. There they discussed the trucks economy performance with a Toyota technician, who sagely told them not to judge the SUV until they had made the full trip. On the way, back, the SUV, now going downhill out of the mountains, returned the lost economy, and more, delivering on that leg of the trip an economy performance far above predicted by the EPA stats. But, it was simply returning the power stored in regenerative braking, and gaining what could not be gained on the way up. The economy of a well designed hybrid is very good in all conditions, but it is much more of a "life cycle" performance, not a one way trip performance. Continued measuring of the vehicles performance indicates true efficiency, not shown easily in a one time short distance measurement.

The promise of the plug hybrid is of course far greater. Batteries that can withstand continued cycle deep discharge and recharge are the only hold up.

If one can build an electric car that is 50 by 50, that is to say, 50 mile range at 50 miles per gallon, then the idea of a 50/50 hybrid is well within reach. Does anyone doubt that a 50/50 electric car can now be built? That is a VERY low level to have to achieve, many electrics have done more.

In my own case, I commute 42 miles round trip. A plug hybrid could give me all of that off of my house current, but I would need a bit of recharge due to the need for extra performance (i.e., over 50 miles per hour by a small margin for the road part of the trip) but then we must factor in the regenerative braking effect, which would contribute some range.

This is why the Chevy Volt created such a storm of interest. It IS the car the nation needs. It can run if there is a complete lack of fuel. It could deliver the range. It could deliver the performance. The design, as defined by GM is the CORRECT path, being an all around usable, real car that could revolutionize the economics of fuel consumption. It is an ELEGANT DESIGN.

But, then General Motors chickened out before they even began the game.
They started backing away. The batteries are not available. Of course, that story is so inane and ludicrious no one is buying it. The batteries are of course available. The discussion involves price points, and setting the consumer expectations as to how long the batteries should be warrentied.
The batteries now available will perform, and do a steller job, but for how many discharge cycles, how deep? The truth is the manufacturer of the battery, General Motors, and perhaps even the utility providing the power will have to be involved in protecting the consumer from a complete battery failure should that occur (they are possible) and will have to financially set the "break points". The government may be involved in incentive to all parties. Such is the complicated culture we now live in. GM and the battery makers are now trying to bleed the turnip, as we say in the south, to get every possible advantage from their efforts, and all the financial rewards it can deliver. There is no doubt the technology will work, you could build the drivetrain into a 1980 Chevette. What everyone involved is doing is trying to make it sound as difficult as possible in the effort to get more for doing it.

This is expected. But we must NOT let the larger picture get away from us. We must let GM and others know that we know what they are doing, and they, the battery manufacturers, the government, the customer and all interested parties must keep in mind that our national economy is at stake here. Declaring impossible what is easily seen to be possible is o.k., for a while, but others (possibly external international firms) are in the game too. If GM waits too long, they should expect no pity, no protection, and no bailout from the American people who they have had a history of dismissing.

To finish with your last point, "You're absolutely right about the standard of living issue; any claim that we must cut back and accept less leads to denial. This is why the "Sustainability" proposal is aimed at supplying 100% of current end-use energy requirements for transport and electric."

The difference between denial and acceptance is a thin one. I can tell an 82 year old man with both hips and knees already replaced that he should bicycle to the doctor, he just has to have WILL POWER! He is a baby, spoiled to expect to ride in a car! He is in "denial" he should accept less!

Of course, he is in reality, a reality that the young and vibrant don't like to see. In more primitive cultures, he would already be dead.

I work everyday with middle aged women, divorced or widowed, who are damm good at what they do, but what they do is rather narrow....office supervision, clerical work, office training in very narrow information based skills. The idea that they are going to become primitive farm wives at this late stage in life is "denial" of a high order. And these are not "rare" examples of how people live. They were educated for this from the age of high school, and there are tens upon tens of millions of them. They are the customers, the workers, the logistical backbone of a complex culture.

A collapse of the modern technical culture matters little in the thinking of these people and rightly so. There is ABSOLUTELY nothing they could do to survive it. It would be the same as if a meteor struck the Earth. There is simply NO possibility of many of these successful and hard working people making the type of change needed to survive. They, like myself due to the health issues mentioned above, must work for the advance of technology, the efficiency of a modern technical and advanced system is (and most average civilized people know this, it is why they dismiss the "primitive noble savage fantasies" out of hand) is what keeps them alive. If it ends, they end.

So many people misunderstood Dick Chaney's sentence in this regard. Hatred of the man caused people to dismiss the truth of his logic when he said "Our way of life is non-negotiable."

He was not throwing out a challenge. He was stating a fact. A great change or collapse forced upon the nations of the modern world is not negotiable, because it would death. I once heard a diplomat say "Just about anything can be negotiated, except one thing: My right to exist. If you set as your beginning non-negotiable term the position that I have no right to exist, then why would I negotiate? I'm a dead man if I do. I will fight to the death."

Make no mistake. What many call "powerdown" or the "collapse" or the "die off" or "life in the wilderness", or what some try to polity recast as "sustainability" will be fought to the dying breath. And why not? If the only option given by acceptance of the terms is death, then why not fight, and at least have a chance, or, at least die with dignity?

Toffler described this in 1980, in "The Third Wave", "the coming super struggle" he called it. And he knew then, what we know now: In the effort to survive, NO technical solution will be off the table.

What we have to work for, propagandize for, is "elegant technology", the kind that does far less harm than good, the kind that does not destroy humans and the biosphere, but includes it in the design, the kind that can be seen as beautiful in an aesthetic sense, and desirable by the citizens and customer.

We must reawaken the designers, the (to borrow your handle, pretty good...
the true "Engineer-Poets" :-)

Sorry to go so long, but to me this is the cutting edge, the fascination of the whole energy discussion. It all comes back to this: What kind of world do we want to live in? That is what will decide so much.

Roger Conner Jr.
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

Hi Roger,

Well, I hope Charles and Nate are no longer imagining we're addressing their article!

Roger, I like the fact you're talking about the lives of real people (in the U.S., for eg.).

I would try to introduce more "third alternatives" into the scenarios you describe. Yes, the middle-age women in offices, people who are in need of medications...at the same time, I'm not sure the choices are only between the present and one other imagined alternative.

re: "So many people misunderstood Dick Chaney's sentence in this regard. Hatred of the man caused people to dismiss the truth of his logic when he said "Our way of life is non-negotiable."

He was not throwing out a challenge. He was stating a fact. A great change or collapse forced upon the nations of the modern world is not negotiable, because it would death. I once heard a diplomat say "Just about anything can be negotiated, except one thing: My right to exist. If you set as your beginning non-negotiable term the position that I have no right to exist, then why would I negotiate? I'm a dead man if I do. I will fight to the death."

I see this as set in an either/or framework. Which limits the options, as far as I can tell.

I don't see it as being the case that the choices are so circumscribed. For example, if some of the women in offices, instead did sewing (which some may do as hobbies)...I don't know, I don't mean to introduce hypothetical examples.

It's just that a lot of preferences are based on a person's history, and those can change with exposure to something else.

It's not clear to me what defines the elements necessary for survival.

Example. Food. You know some basics...but it doesn't mean that the food supply (US) today is better quality or more plentiful than it was, say, 10 years ago, when there were fewer imports.

My ideal would be a new agricultural policy that rewards organic and sustainable farming, ditto with education for same, preserves ag land, no more ag land for development, etc.

How much can be changed?

You say a great change or collapse.

What about something less than this?

Because it looks like we do, in fact, get collapse, if we don't make some changes.

And the current system has biases (subsidies, tax policies, etc.) that do encourage a direction toward collapse.

So, it seems there's some room for switching. While we can.

Anyway, I'll stop. There's a new study out on chocolate and blood pressure. (It looks to me like the type and severity is not a question, though I haven't read the original.)