Facing the Hard Truths about Energy - the NPC report, commented

Last week, the National Petroleum Council, i.e. the organisation representing the oil&gas industry, released the report it had prepared over the past 18 months at the request of the Bush administration.

I wrote about it in my last Countdown diary which was based on press articles leaked prior to the publication of the report, and noted that this report appeared to break new ground in the acknowledgement of some hard truths about the sector.

Having now read the Executive Summary (warning, 5MB pdf), I'd like to provide more extensive commentary of what the report actually says.

The Executive Summary is quite simple in its architecture, as it is split in two parts: the "hard truths" about energy over the next 25 years, and their policy recommendations. So I'll follow their structure and comment each of their "hard truths" and their recommendations.

The hard truths

The report notes five main truths:

Coal, oil, and natural gas will remain indispensable to meeting total projected energy demand growth.

The hard truth here is that overall demand for energy is expected to keep on growing significantly over the next 2 decades. What is left unsaid, but made obvious, in the Executive Summary, is that we will have very little control over that demand: the OECD's demand, which makes up 56% of world demand, is predicted to grow by 10% in their central scenario (from 245 quads to 275 quads), whereas demand from the rest of the world is expected to double, going from 44% to 60% of total demand (and from 200 quads to 400 quads).

The report mentions later that it is impossible to treat energy as a national issue - it is a fully global industry, and we will be impacted by what happens elsewhere. Well, the first, stark, lesson, is that whatever happens on the demand side, as a whole, will be decided, to a large extent, elsewhere.

I've been writing a lot about how we should focus energy policy on demand, which we control, rather than on supply, which we do increasingly less. Well, a major proviso of that is that we certainly do not control global demand anymore. That does not make our domestic efforts irrelevant, quite the opposite, but it shows that any sane policy should focus on the demand in other parts of the world, something that will require a lot more cooperation and diplomacy than we seem willing to engage in right now.

The second part of that "hard truth" is that it's pretty likely that we will overwhelmingly continue to burn hydrocarbons to satisfy that growing demand - because that's what we already do, and because a lot of that demand comes from sectors that overwhelmingly use hydrocarbons: transport (with skyrocketing car use in the emerging world) and electricity generation (where burning coal, gas or oil is the default choice).

The world is not running out of energy resources, but there are accumulating risks to continuing expansion of oil and natural gas production from the conventional sources relied upon historically. These risks create significant challenges to meeting projected energy demand.

This is the point that has led to many headlines and was discussed in my earlier diary. Depending on how you look at it, it can be seen as either an acknowledgement of peak oil (significant challenges to meeting demand), or a dismissal of it (not running out of energy ressources). Coming from the NPC, it does seem to be an unsually candid effort at acknowledging the increasing tensions on the supply side that are chronicled on places like The Oil Drum or my "Countdown to $100 oil" series.

In fact, the Executive Summary includes a half-page summary of the debate on peak oil, which can be described to be reasonably fair in the presentation of arguments, and their supply scenarios include those prepared by the ASPO (Association for the Study of Peak Oil), one of the main peak oil groups.

So I'd chalk this report as a major step forward in the acknowledgement that there is indeed a supply problem for both oil&gas. This article this morning in the Independent has a good round up of quotes and comments on this.

The age of cheap oil is gone. That point long made by the peak oil advocates is essentially acknowledged.

To mitigate these risks, expansion of all economic energy sources will be required, including coal, nuclear, renewables, and unconventional oil and natural gas. Each of these sources faces significant challenges--including safety, environmental, political, or economic hurdles--and imposes infrastructure requirements for development and delivery.

That's probably where the report is most disappointing. It essentially says that we'll be able to respond to the challenge by producing (or rather, extracting) more energy, even if it's getting more difficult. The order in which these sources are listed shows that the industry is still  expecting to work on the same model as before, with more big utility centralised production. There is no mention of the need for energy demand (it is elsewhere in the report, but not here, where it matters), and an essentially upside down order of priority. As I have said many times, we should focus our efforts first on energy demand reduction, then renewables, then nuclear, then hydrocarbons.

The only notable point is that unconventional oil&gas is last in that list. And the Executive Summary includes an explicit acknowledgement that these sources are unlikely to provide any significant relief by 2030.

"Energy Independence" should not be confused with strengthening energy security. The concept of energy independence is not realistic in the foreseeable future, whereas U.S. energy security can be enhanced by moderating demand, expanding and diversifying domestic energy supplies, and strengthening global
energy trade and investment. There can be no U.S. energy security without global energy security.

With energy being one of the most internationalised and globalised industries, this may sound like a pretty basic fact, but in the context of the US political debate, and the regular mention of the words "energy independence" in various politicians' programmes or speeches, it is quite useful that this reminder be included here. There will be no autarchic solution, and no way to avoid an energy crisis coming from elsewhere even if the US were self-sufficient - because prices are set globally, and reflect the global supply and demand balance. It should also act as a warning that there will be no possibility for any isolationist foreign policy in the foreseeable future, and no way to avoid the ripples from what happens in the Middle East, the main exporter of energy sources worldwide.

A majority of the U.S. energy sector workforce, including skilled scientists and engineers, is eligible to retire within the next decade. The workforce must be replenished and trained.

This is, to some extent, a localised problem (as many other parts of the world have surpluses), but it is nevertheless a real one in the medium term, and it might have a very noticeable impact on other political debates - watching the Texas oil managers pleading for a more open immigration policy (as the report already does) might be entertaining - and offer the Democrats a real political opportunity on that topic.

Policies aimed at curbing CO2 emissions will alter the energy mix, increase energy-related costs, and require reductions in demand growth.

The elephant in the room, and the embarrassment of the NPC on the topic is palpable, as this is presented last, with a warning that the report expresses no opinion on climate change. What is significant is that the industry essentially concedes defeat - while not acknowledging the reality of climate change, they note the ineascapable political reality that something will be done to lower carbon emissions, and the report thus focuses on how to do this in what they see as the best way.

Again, a major acknowledgement.

Which brings us to the policy suggestions:

The policy proposals

Moderate the growing demand for energy by increasing efficiency of transportation, residential, commercial, and industrial uses.

While it is disappointing that they only mention a reduction in the growth of demand, and not a reduction of demand itself, it is, again, somewhat remarkable that their first suggestion is on the demand side. This should be noted.

However, their proposals end up being quite modest. As noted above, demand is not expected to grow much in the West, and indeed has not grown much in recent years. Focusing on limiting demand growth in the USA is thus a terribly unambitious goal. Reducing demand would be quite easy, and should be an explicit goal of any reasonable policy plan. As most demand growth will take place in the developing world, efforts to slow it need to be shared, which means, for the West, actual demand reduction - in significant volumes.

In that respect, the policy proposals in the report are extraordinarily timid. On the transport side, they support increases in CAFE standards, something that would be nice, but is dreadfully insufficient. A doubling of mpg for new vehicles means little more than business as usual and, as the only proposal on the table, completely ignores the debate as to how transport should take place, i.e. the central role of car transportation is not even mentioned, let alone criticized. Similarly, the otherwise sensible proposals for the construction sector (improve standards and enforce them) completely fail to acknowledge urbanisation policies that encourage the construction of far away suburbs and dispersed, low-density housing which both require car-based transport.

Frankly, despite the fact that this is their first point of action, it ends up being deeply disappointing, by refuisng to touch the core factors underpinning our energy consumption.

Expand and diversify production from clean coal, nuclear, biomass, other renewables, and unconventional oil and natural gas; moderate the decline of conventional domestic oil and gas production; and increase access for development of new resources.

This has been discussed to some extent above: this order of priority is deeply disappointing. The report follows the "business as usual" line of the IEA and EIA which both severely underestimate the potential for renewable energies like wind and solar, and ends us with a wish list of subsidies for the domestic oil&gas industry, including the opening up of hitherto closed areas for exploration (ANWR is not mentioned, but that's the gist, along with Californian offshore and oil shales) and subsidies for small producers.

Integrate energy policy into trade, economic, environmental, security, and foreign policies; strengthen global energy trade and investment; and broaden dialogue with both producing and consuming nations to improve global energy security.

Beyond the fancy words, and the warning noted above that "energy independence" cannot exist, the subject is completely ignored in the Executive Summary. I'll try to dig into the actual report to see what is said, but I doubt I'll see any kind of criticism of current policies to support dictatorial but friendly regimes in oil rich countries and demonize inimical oil rich regimes. But I'll reserve judgement for now.

Enhance science and engineering capabilities and create long-term opportunities for research and development in all phases of the energy supply and demand system.

This is just asking for more subsidies to the industry to face some of the issues outlined above.

Develop the legal and regulatory framework to enable carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). In addition, as policymakers consider options to reduce CO2 emissions, provide an effective, global framework for carbon management, including establishment of a transparent, predictable, economy-wide cost for CO2 emissions.

This is the carbon emissions bit of the report. As I said, the acknowledge that it will be regulated, so they have switched the battle on how to do that. Therefore, the focus is on "predictability" (let's not change the regime once it's been swallowed by us), "global fairness" (let's make sure the Chinese and other industries have to cough up too), and favorable treatment for their pet peeves that will allow the industry to keep on working almost as before (subsidies for CCS, which will allow to keep on burning coal and gas, will be nice)

Again, you can see it as a good thing (the debate on whether it is necessary to reduce carbon emissions is over, and the industry has lost and moved on), or a bad thing (they're trying to make it possible for them to stick as much as possible to business as usual, without any real review of how things could be done differently to actual lower energy consumption).

So, overall, it's a mixed bag in absolute terms but a real step forward in political terms, and something that we should definitely use in the public debate on the topic, with regular  use of the sentence "even the industry now acknowledges that...

They have moved the outer limit of the Overton window back towards us, and we should certainly use that.


Thanks for your reading of this. I agree with you especially about the potential of renewables to displace carbon based energy sources but I think you are being pretty charitable when it comes to their international ambitions. They frame the use of the world and national strategic reserves in terms of taking Iran and Venuzela off line. They are very very business as usual in this area. This is my (less charitable) take on the findings though you'll see some common criticism.

On the policy recommendations, your point about asking for many more handouts has a lot of strengths.

Here is another interesting analysis of the USA situation re oil for anyone that is interested http://www.financialsense.com/fsu/editorials/2007/0724.html

Now, overlay the Export Land Model on top of that.

An interesting column to add to the table would be the percent of world net exports that the 'deficit' represents.

I found a blog that summarizes Net Oil Exports. The March '07 data from this site (38,365 MBpd) and the EIA import data for March '07 (10,348 MBpd) implies that the US currently takes 27% of world net oil exports. Assuming an undulating plateau in net exports (Hey, Yergin does, why not me?), that puts our take of global exports at 55% in 2015. 94% by 2026.

Remind me again, what mechanism do we have to ensure this happens? <sarcasm> And where's the downside?</sarcasm>

This really does seem to be the big story. WT, stay on message!

bjj: Yep. Any way you slice it USA consumption is coming down (soon).


Thanks for providing your reading of the NPC report. I really appreciate a continental perspective on the report. Ithink its a pretty big step forward, and hope we can get a dialogue going on peak oil. I'm encouraged that they acknowledge peak oil with a fair summary of our position, but discouraged that they buried it in a 400 page report in the wonderfully expressive language Beaurocratese. I guess they're hoping that the legislators and media will get bored long before they get to peak oil or CO2 in the report.

The thing that stuck me most about the report is that they predict we will need another 30 million barrels a day by 2030 to keep the endless growth paradigm, but offer only ridiculous ideas on how to expand that growth-step up the rate of discovery higher than its been in 35 years-they're suggesting at least 2 new Ghawars and about 100 giant oil fields, and expanding enhanced oil recovery by a factor of about 20 with raising reservoir recovery rates to 33%, and stepping up unconventional oil to 5 million barrels of oil per day. That unconventional oil will require a capital investment of about 5 trillion dollars. And, all of this has to work perfectly to pull it off, with no mention of aboveground factors.

Maybe the Crude Oil Fairy is going to come down and grant their wishes, but I'd not count on it.
Bob Ebersole

First to Jerome - I read your report on another forum this morning and re-read it now. Excellent.

Now, for Bob:

Ithink its a pretty big step forward, and hope we can get a dialogue going on peak oil.

This has become a meme with you and I'm sorry to use Jeromes' post to pursue it. Tell me who this dialogue is with. Tell me its purpose. Tell me what the goal(s is. Tell me how the goals of this dialogue will be actualized.

Clearly, it won't be with me because I'm one of those "dommer porn" people you hate inspite of the fact that I'm 14 years older than you, have a large-scale PV system, solar hot water, provide my own firewood from my property, grow a lot of our food and much more. What are you doing?




Since Bob has not yet given you his reply, and you have asked a few questions that are fascinating, I want a shot at them. Since you admit to using Jerome's post to persue your issue, if you will be so kind, I would like to use your post to persue the questions you ask, very good ones indeed:

Note, this is in no way an attempt to engage in conflict, I don't want to annoy a guy with a large scale PV system, as you are someone I may be wanting advice from on that subject! :-)

Now, as for the purpose, goal, actualization and partners for the peak oil dialogue, I just can't resist, because this subject is at the core of why I come back to TOD again and again, and what I consider the absolute reason of the dialogue we have here: Exchange of information, and sharpen our arguments, and our knowledge of EVERY kind of energy production and consumption to a razor sharp edge.

Now as far as dialogue with those outside the "peak community....
Purpose of dialogue: To convince groups who are in control of money, technology, and policy that (a) there is a potential emergency confronting the world and the U.S., (b) that the situation is in need of what they control and what they can do (i.e. apply money, technology and policy in a different way) to assure not only their own security, wealth and survival, but also the same for their nation and the world (c) that the problem is managable and may even provide the possibility of great improvement in environment, safety, stability, and security if correct action is taken as soon as possible, meaning now.

Who the dialogue is with:
Bankers and investors, brokers, local, state and government agencies, businesses, universities and colleges, health care providers and hospitals, writers, architects, artists and designers, and intellectual leaders, civic groups and churches, and the customer, the man and women in the cubicles of America to name a few places to start.

Now the tough part, the question you asked,
"Tell me what the goal(s) is. Tell me how the goals of this dialogue will be actualized."

This is also the controversial part, because it asks us to CHOOSE sides. We must ask ourselve some hard yes or no questions, that seem simple at first, but are not:

(a) Do we REALLY believe a major emergency is coming unless we do something big and do something now? Not just do we argue and say it to get people's nerves on edge, to be a kind of hip intellectual dark and moody type, but do we actually believe it? (you may smirk at this, but it is not uncommon, the "man in black", the gothic young, the nihilist artist type has always had it's appeal as a stylish icon, hip in their dispair, from Goethe's young Werther to the moody and brooding James Howard Kunstler, detesting, and snarling at all the culture around them found enjoyment and value in, all the while sharing in the very prosperity and luxuries they curse)

(b) Do we REALLY believe that anything can be done to make things better? This is the cutting edge of the doomer vs. technology debate at TOD, and why it is fought with such a vengeance. Because if we believe, REALLY believe that nothing can be done, that it's a forgone conclusion, then of course, dialogue is pointless. Do you want to go to a banker with an alternative energy plan, and say "this will save millions and millions of wasted kilowatts, but of course, it won't matter, the whole system is doomed, it's really a done deal"?

Most observent and thoughtful people know that those who say that nothing can be done about the Peak Oil crisis are the biggest friends of the status quo, and the best friends the current energy industry ever had. They may not intend to be, but they are.

That is why we make the fight, and stand our ground, that there are things that can be done, that will work and that can break the gas/oil monopoly. It is not, as some would try to humiliate the supporters of alternative technology by claiming, that we believe in "miracles". We beleive in investment, in hard thought, in trial and error, in failure, learning from failure, and then trying it again, slightly differently this time, and the next, and the next...it is the miracle of EFFORT and THOUGHT in the face of long hard odds, fought out in the labs and the shops of America and the world, gaining 1% at a time.

"Tell me what the goal(s) is. Tell me how the goals of this dialogue will be actualized."

The goal is that 1% gain, then another, and another. Gain in efficiency, reduction of waste, gain in energy produced by renewables, gain in freedom, gain in options. Remember the power of the "exponential function" we talked about the other day on TOD? Small differences at the front end mean huge returns at the back end.

The dialogue will be actualized this way....

"Have you noticed that solar is really becoming close to being economically competitive with natural gas?....by the way, did you notice that California has banned power from coal plants? Hmm, guess that leaves you guys at the mercy of the nat gas companies....remember what happened to Calpine? And those blackouts when Enron, Calpine, Duke, Dynergy, Aquilla and the others were in control....Even though that solar option might not be exactly competitive per penny, you have to assume natural gas is going up in price, the way the demand will increase....and the LNG program proves even the government doesn't think we can produce enough....by the way, did you see the NPC Report, right from insiders in the industry....here, I have a chart, showing how we will be 3 or more times more dependent on OPEC in only a few more years....say your on the school board, aren't you? Have you noticed all that flat roof on the buildings.....

"Look, let me give you a website, these guys will check and see if there is potential there, they can do the whole thing turn key....you get some nice tax rebates, and increntives, and the "green" press to really make it make a bit of a publicity maker....I know, it seems radical now, but helll, Walmart is getting into it, with big banks even working out the financing, like a lease deal....read up on it, show it to some of your friends on the board....I mean, somebody got the ball rolling back when you installed computers and educational TV in the classroom, right.....I will send you sme more links....even come with the guys who do this for a living, so you'll have somebody there you know..."

Those are the conversations that will take place, that ARE taking place, one at a time, all over the United States....do we really need to worry about energy...what can we do about it....show me some options....which make sense....do we have any support on this....or will we sound like quacks....look, let's make it professional, get one of the pro outfits to help make a presentation....

1% at a time. That is what the dialogue is about. Make no mistake, this is a propaganda war. The entrenched energy industry is using every tool at their disposal to fend off the alternatives, to ease the concern, to protect what they have. That is why as Jerome himself pointed out in the keypost that even the rather frank NPC Report downplays the renewables and the alternatives.

But even they are now having trouble hiding the truth. The "hard truths" that the NPC released are from an industry that knows this hardest of all truths:
if the nation goes down, they go down with it. Do you think for a moment they would get away with what they get away with in most other nations? They would be nationalized or regulated in a heartbeat. Look at the British government tax BP right into the face of declining production. Look at the way Putin handles Gasprom, or Saudi Arabia handles Aramco for a lesson.

So the NPC gave us a warning, What we didn't like was the conclusions the warning led too, which can be stated loosely as: "Give us what we need...access to areas to drill, tax and incentive plans to help us, and stay off our backs....or your in for some bad trouble." But that does not reduce the validity of the Report. The evidence they give is valid. The potential for big problems are valid. And in the end, to get to where we need to be, we will probably have to give the oil and gas industry at least some of what they want and need.

But they stayed away, as Jerome so rightly pointed out, from the big alternatives, the major changes. The NPC Report is valid and valuable, but it is still very much a part of the propaganda war, right there with the API "blog" festivals, and the new Shell answer man Hoffmiester running around the country...they still want to control the terms of the dialogue.

Gail Tverberg gives a fascinating, (astonishing actually) quote from the recent API blog call. She quotes the head of the Technology portion of the NPC committee Rod Nelson as saying in reply to a question about conservation:

"I do think – the way you phrased your question, you know, kind of made me nervous because what we – we made a distinction between conservation and efficiency."

A Freudian slip that! The use of the term "kind of made me nervous" exposes a real weakness (even fear) on the part of the decision makers and planners in the oil industry. Remember, they have SO MUCH more to lose than most of us. Recently one of the wacky commentators over at Huffington's bit of weirdness of a website actually said something very clever..."the oil industry only fears the one thing they don't yet think we can do and that is reduce our consumption."

That is what the "dialogue" is about. The oil industry is now, just like the peakers, selling an emergency. But the oil company is controlling the debate..."in the end, oil and gas are the only game in town....it's us or nothing, you have to play our game." The cliche' that is the classic "doomer", I know it is an overused term (the "anti-technologist" or "neo-Luddite" might be better) who attempts to shoot down any and all possibility of any alternative is, like or not, one of the greatest allies of the oil industry.

The goal of the "dialogue": Let us propose that there is more energy on and coming to Earth than oil and gas. Let us propose that it can be captured in great volume. Let us propose that even renewable clean energy should NEVER be wasted for the sheer sake of wasting it. Let us assume that if we support efforts develop elegant and truly modern design, efficiency engineering, and advanced renewables, they will surprise us to the upside. Let us put some in place, and see how they work, and see if they can be improved. What do you have to lose? If the emergency is catastrophic, and all is lost anyway, we will have made the bid. Why not at least use the tools we now have in the toolbox. Conservation, YES, we will need that....redesign of city layout, YES, we will need that, a different midset about energy YES we will need that, but that does not preclude the renewables and advanced cleaner and more efficient design."

To win the dialogue against an entrenched and wealthy adversary, we will have to know our stuff: Solar, what kind? PV, CIGS thin film, concentrating mirror, solar thermal hot water....wind, what kind? Newly advanced rotors, lighter and smaller systems to run in slower wind, wind turbines for pumping, compressing, storage systems, CAES Compressed air storage, batteries, what kind? Sodium Sulfur, Nickel Metal, Lithium Ion, on and on and on....hybrids, what kind....gas electric, Diesel electric, plug hybrid, hydraulic hybrid, Fuel Cells, what kind, what material, what cost? Electric rail, how will it be designed, what cost? Bio-fuels, what kind, from what feedstock, can they ever return more than is put in, how? Combined with solar, combined with wind? Methane recapture?
Nuclear? What kind at what cost? Is fusion an option? When and at what cost? What is needed? Would more money help, or would it be wasted?

To win this dialogue, we have to be able to meet them on any issue, argue that gas and oil are only one set of options, a very narrow set, when it comes to producing energy....and hold our ground, back it up, show real examples, and win in the eyes of the public. We have to sway the intellectuals as well as the Joe Sixpack in the stands.

That is what the dialogue is about, it's purpose, and how it will be actualized.
The Hirsch Report, the NPC Report on Natural Gas in 2003, the GAO Report, the Army Corps of Engineers Report, and now the NPC Report on Oil and Gas are just the opening salvos in what will be one of the greatest battles for the hearts and minds of the world's people since the Cold War.

The Peak Oil Community seemed beside itself with glee to be recognized after all:

But recognition is only the first part of the battle, and the smallest part.
We now must win the hearts and minds of the people to this cause, we must say:

Something can be done. Oil and Gas are NOT the only ways to produce energy, perhaps not even the best ways. Alternatives can work if they are supported, if we make the effort. Do NOT allow the young to be dissuaded.
There are advances to be made, careers to be made. They must decide:
Do they want to accept the slavery of staring a mule in the ass down in the hovels, or do they want to help develop the most advanced energy system, and with it culture, the world has ever known. Tell our young THE TRUTH:
Even if they accept the idea of becoming humble serfs and peasants, the young in the rest of the world WILL NOT. Even if our young will give up the idea of cars and transportation, and comfortable houses, the young in the rest of the world WILL NOT. If we and our young assume that there is no alternative, there is no chance at a better world, at a modern world, a world with technology, WE HAD BETTER BE RIGHT. Because if we are wrong, the nations with peoples of courage and imagination will go to a higher place, will maintain the power that modernism and technology brings. Can you count on them to use it fairly, and to treat your humble peasant children well?

The overlord smiles, and replies...."take comfort....we will be as kind to you as you have been to the nations and peoples you held technical advantage over for so many years."

Thank you for your time.
Roger Conner Jr.
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

Hi RC Jr

Great comment. I just got the feeling I understand your standpoint a lot better (than the last year). Quite a long post ;) but at least you achieved that. Ok I dont completely agree, but at least I understand what you are after.

Soo, lets think on that "cutting edge" discussion - do we have the time (= can we, or all) move society forward OR "are we all doomed"? Do you reader prefer alternative A or B? that is up to you. Think about it, and take actions according to your decision. And revise that decision occasionally.

Let's go for it, it gonna be a great rock'n'roll ride!

Well said.

I would perhaps summarize your view as:

Something can be done.

To which I would humbly add:

Something should be done.

There are those who dislike modern Western society, and in all honesty I'm forced to agree that there are some disagreeable aspects to it. However, honesty also forces me to note that never before have so many people been so far from misery, starvation, and death.

Look at how most people lived 500 years ago. Look at how poor people in poor countries live now.

The desperate struggle to merely survive that plagued mankind has largely vanished from modern Western society, to an extent never before imagined in human history. So, while that society may be far from perfect, its destruction without a clear alternative would vastly increase the toll of human misery.

And looking on that possible wave of suffering with anticipation is the sign of a sick mind. It's no better than looking at someone with a nasty wound, telling them it's sure to get infected and how horrible dying of infection will be, all the while refusing to help them look for any treatment.

As something with the (theoretical) possibility to bring about this much suffering, peak oil attracts the kind of sick freak who gets off on misery. I'm not saying that's everyone here - not even most - but ask yourself, how many times have you read someone insistently braying how the world is doomed, how billions will die, how civilization cannot survive, how collapse is inevitable...without a shred of evidence or argument to support their fantasies?

Now ask yourself, who fantasizes about plunging billions into misery, despair, and death?

Delusions about an impending apocalypse have been with us for a long, long time, and people who are prone to such beliefs are using peak oil as a convenient rationalization for their pre-existing faith in an imminent collapse. While their irrational pessimism is sad, their latching onto peak oil seriously obscures the actual facts surrounding what honestly is a serious and important issue. Like the patient at risk of infection, what we need now is to look for treatment - figure out how best to deal with the current situation - rather than to froth at the mouth about how painful dying from infection is going to be.

When in the midst of cultists prophesying doom - again - how are rational people supposed to take us seriously?

Anyone who honestly wants to talk to others about peak oil, just stick to the plain, verifiable facts - anything you can't convince others of is probably your personal opinion. For those who just enjoy ranting about their apocalyptic fantasies, go to the hell you seemingly desire.

Just don't expect the rest of us to follow you there.

Well, Pitt, you've just painted yourself into a nice corner. Stick to the facts, he says. If we stick to the facts, an inevitable consequence in any conversation with any rational human being is "What does this mean to me?" And this is where the rubber meets the road. If you cannot convince someone that there is a personal impact, then they will take no action. In order to convince someone that there is a personal impact, you must speculate about possible consequences. No one, not even you, knows the future about peak oil with any certainty. So lacking context and unable to do anything except recite facts about oil supplies, discovery rates, and (currently) declining production, one is left unable to draw conclusions or to speculate about possible consequences.

In other words, your long diatribe is full of nonsense, Pitt. We must draw conclusions about the future, which, by definition, are opinions! Now, you can argue that we should be cautious in our conclusions. You can argue that extreme conclusions hurt our image. But without conclusions that mean something to the person listening to the recitation of facts, there will be zero motivation to do anything because the assumption, based upon their personal experience, will be that "technology will save us" and that therefore it is not their personal problem.

So no, I won't stop with the conjecture. I won't stop wondering what will happen. I won't refuse to consider the worst case scenarios just because you insist that I do so.

And finally we have the usual ad hominem straw man juvenile BS, which I never expected from you, Pitt, least of all you.

Anyone who honestly wants to talk to others about peak oil, just stick to the plain, verifiable facts - anything you can't convince others of is probably your personal opinion. For those who just enjoy ranting about their apocalyptic fantasies, go to the hell you seemingly desire.

There it is in black and white, Pitt the Elder accusing anyone who talks about grim scenarios as someone who must inevitably want those scenarios to come to pass. Did your grandfather tell Winston Churchill that he must have wanted the Nazis to attack because he warned about it? Yes, that is how absurd your argument sounds. Completely comically ridiculous right on its face.

"The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function." -- Dr. Albert Bartlett
Into the Grey Zone

You prettty much said what I was going to say to Roger. So, I guess I'll let it go.


It is propaganda,They have the megaphone of the full spectrum media...consultants,well paid whores,that we all can name,and money.

We have truth,and the internet.

We have the knowlege,and expertise,and the advantage that many,many citizens just flat dislke being lied to by their .gov.And when they are{lied to} they begun to question not only the why of the lie,but all the actions,and statement of the liars.

Between the looting of the treasury,and the destruction of our very means of government ,by those who seek only to enrich themselfs ,we are in fact, near the edge.

It may require that we go over the edge to affect the change that is needed for the survival of our country,and our peoples.The current powerstructure is so ossified,corrupt,hidebound,and beholden to special corp.intrests ,that change,before the destuction of the system,is impossible.

It was,in the past,possible by war,to "roll the dice"and change societal makeup,and allow new ways to inject themselfs into the mainsteam.That now is impossible.The consequences of all out war now can spiral to a terminal nucular spin that will give another speciese a shot at develope,after we have lost the game...

I disagree,the Overlord will not be smileing when ehe speaks to our children...

Roger Conner, Jr.

Thanks for your defense of my position, I've now had my first cup of coffee.

I think that people change their positions slowly, and often avoid the language of the other side. Its an ego defense mechanism, and I think the best way to handle that is to allow them some room and not confront them directly.
That doesn't mean water down our message, or stop giving our message. It means don't get in a pissing contest with somebody drinking beer, even if you have rubber boots.

M. King Hubbert was an employee of big oil-Shell to be exact. We are not enemies with big oil, but rather think that change is coming like it or not. As a society we need to prepare. We need all the help we can get, the world belongs to us all.

Todd, I applaud your preparations. Powering down will really help, and it sounds like you've made some really positive choices. I'm looking into photovoltaics for my home, and would hope to get them installed next spring. I live in a small city, Galveston in a house that's comfortable without modern "conveniences" as it was built in 1895. I'm within 1/4th of a mile of University of Texas Medical Branch, the public health system for most of our state. I garden some, and I live 4 blocks from an excellent fishing spot.And, I'm working with some community approaches-our civic club and talking to local leaders. My civic club has a community garden, we have light rail in town and busses and I'm advocating extending our streetcar lines. one of my neighbors has started a farmer's market, and I patronise that.

I'm also currently working up some well reentry and old field redevelopment deals. I think the NPC has really overexagerated the potential of Enhanced Oil Recovery, EOR, but that doesn't mean that I think its a bad approach. I'm just not nearly so optimistic as they are about increasing the production flows in the U.S. to support unlimited growth.

Conservation is the best thing all of us can do, and the most prudent thing. It helps global warming to not burn fossil fuels, and keeps your money in your pockets where it can do the most good. Call it the "tricle up effect".
Bob Ebersole


Excellent comments. Posts such as these keep me coming back to TOD every day.

Indeed the dialogue on a wide basis has barely begun. I have certainly seen awareness of our energy predicament rise in many ways and places. Even the NPC report shows this, although masked by the expected industry response to something that could threaten power and profitability.

While Todds PV system, and even your basic Prius buyer who wants to use less energy, are more or less on the fringe, increased awareness and higher energy costs will drive this to the middle. The bottom line is that as a group we have not yet really begun to make the choices that will address the real energy issues that are coming to the forefront.

The capacity to reduce energy usage while making relatively minor (and largely desirable) changes to our lifestyles and investment decisions is immense. We just have not really started yet. TOD and the many other forums/voices out there are helping to form the foundation for these changes.

WRT to the doomer aspect of peak oil, in itself peak oil does not constitute the primary fuel for a potential TEOTWAWKI scenario. GW, other resource depletion, nuclear weapons, financial collapse, etc are all key ingrediants, although mankind has muddled through so many of these types of crises. While one cannot rule out a collapse scenario, there is a wide spectrum of scenarios and severe collapse does not seem to be the most likely. People eventually figure things out although there can be much pain involved.

Again, great post. Heres to the next 1 per cent.



Thank you for your thoughtful post.

I completely agree that it is essential to make the argument about Peak Oil to others. Personally, I am not one to discuss politics or religion or anything else all that controversial. But with Peak Oil, we really must become Evangelists.

I find myself trying to convince people of the reality we face rather than allow them to persist in their error, whereas normally I would not very much care what other people thought about a given subject and would rarely try to change their opinion. Why bother? But in this case, it is essential.

If people knew for a fact that oil supplies would decline worldwide at say a 2% rate ad infinitum, each individual could act rationally by reducing consumption (the vast majority of which is completely unnecessary) significantly and supporting appropriate government action (perhaps to compel those who are ill-informed or recalcitrant to do what is in their own best interest.)

Clearly we could solve the problem now, with sufficiently Draconian measures, but instead the mood is one of marginal accomodation to a seemingly temporary problem: buying the SUV that gets 15 mpg instead of 12 as if that is going to make a difference.

If people knew for a fact that oil supplies would decline worldwide at say a 2% rate ad infinitum, each individual could act rationally by reducing consumption ...

Good thoughts, but I must respectfully disagree with the above point.

We humans are a sad lot.
Few of us act as "individuals".
We are mostly herd animals.
We go along to get along.
We insist on being part of the mainstream.
And lastly, we are not "rational".

Think about what happened with the Global Warming movement.
For the longest time, anyone who believed in AGW was deemed a crazed tree hugger.
And then something tipped over.
A critical mass was reached.
Enough people bought into the GW theory so that it suddenly became mainstream thought instead of lunatic fringe talk.

Think about Al Gore's strongest point: "The debate is over."
This is not exactly science or rational.
It is an appeal to our herding instinct, an "assault against reason" if you think on it some more.
If you're not with us, you're an outsider, one who has been cut and run off from the mainstream herd.

The Peak Oil movement is still lunatic fringe.
We don't have enough converts to be considered mainstream.
However, I think each day a few more people have the light bulb turning on in their head. For whatever reason, it suddenly hits them that the Earth is finite and after all, we never had this many people (6.5B) trying to drive SUV's across Mother Earth's rugged terrain.

The notion is absurd that the dynamics of free markets can take care of energy requirements and national priorities governig energy. The industry of energy producers should be regulated not only to assure the production of efficient energy requirements but to assure the environmental conditions we need to achieve for public health and the stabilization of world climate conditions.

About the only thing that can be said for the Petroleum Council study is that it obsfucates issues with difficulties that would otherwise be easy.

It is fascinating how, over the last thirty years, everytime we face major oil prices increases they are always explained as the result of rising demand balanced against insufficient refinery capacity. We are told that despite oil companies investments of $6 billion in refinery improvements over the past seven years, there was a failure to anticipate demand to match supplies. We heard these identical stories in the 1970s and with every oil price increase since. Balance that against Exxon-Mobil's profits of $15 billion a quarter and one must conclude not only that the petroleum industry doesn't operate in a free market, but that the oligopolistic control of these markets effectively enables the manipulation of prices; that the story of refining incapacity while true is only true because those with the power over supply found that by facilitating production impediments, they had a good technical reason for avoiding government scrutiny.

The whole story of energy is one of money overbalancing national interests, environmental necessities, and consumer interests.

The whole story of energy is one of money overbalancing national interests, environmental necessities, and consumer interests.

Funny that you should bring up "money," although I don't think that is word you intended.

I just had a discussion with one of my college age kids about "money" ($$$$$).

Seems they don't have a clue about what money is is even though the kid is a "business" major.

And no, I don't mean that they are spending "it" like there is no tomorrow. Rather I mean that they never took time out to think deeply about what money is in the context of the individual versus society.

Suspend disbelief and imagine for a moment that you are a skilled stone carver on Easter Island in the times when the statue business is going like gang busters. There are lots of trees all around and it seems as if our Easter civilization will last forever.

So some Easter chief pays you 5,000 Moa Marks for your latest stone carving work. You sweated 5 days and nights carving him the best Moa head that Easter money could buy. And now you are happy to accept the 5,000 Moa Marks as renumeration for your hard labor.

Is the Easter Isle chief promising to personally do something for you as pay back for all your hard work?

It is the whole of the Easter Isle society that is making this promise to you in the form of the Moa Mark currency pieces. Take these 5,000 Moa Mark pieces anywhere on the island, to the finest sea-bird restaurant or to the local witch doctor and they will gladly do something "valuable" for you in exchange for you passing on to them this promise of the 5,000 Moa Marks.

But suppose the Easter Island market can no longer deliver on its promise. Then the 5,000 Moa Marks transmute back into being just a bunch of useless sea shells.

Flash back to our own society. Maybe this is why the "moneyed" crowd of today's society rebels so much against the notion of "Peak Oil"?

Peak Oil means that our society cannot deliver on its promise. It means that our 5,000 AmOa-rican dollars are about as "valuable" as a bunch of sea shells. No. We can't allow that to happen. It can't be true. Easter Merican Island will prosper forever. Just like Easter Island did.

Thanks for your insights. With at 422 page report, it is hard to cover everything. I covered some things in my earlier article, but I didn't have a chance to cover the main points in the way you are covering them. This is a good addition.

I should mention one thing regarding "conservation" versus "energy efficiency". On the American Petroleum Institute call, Rod Nelson who was head of the Technology portion of the NPC committee, said that the committee distinguished between the two. They are in favor or energy efficiency, but they are not necessarily in favor of conservation, which to them means going without.

On the API phone call, I had asked about conservation, and Mr. Eizember from ExxonMobile said absolutely they were concerned about conservation.
Then Rod Nelson interjected the following:

00:45:22 MR. NELSON: I do think – the way you phrased your question, you know, kind of made me nervous because what we – we made a distinction between conservation and efficiency. In our mind, efficiency is doing essentially the same thing with less energy. Conservation we deemed as doing without. We’re not saying take cars off the road or drive fewer miles; we’re saying make them more fuel efficient, make the overall fleet more fuel efficient.

So the NPC committee is really not yet for conservation, just energy efficiency.

We’re not saying take cars off the road or drive fewer miles...

This explains their rejection of my ideas to reduce US Oil consumption by 10% in ten to twelve years. I got an early version of


to the NPC sub-committee on conservation.

Since no coercion is involved in my proposals, only providing new, more energy efficient options, I can only say that the NPC is a charter member of the Iron Triangle.

Best Hopes for Other Avenues,


Alan Drake,

You've got the best, most practical method of securing a safe future. I support your rail electrification plan 100%. And you're right, big oil is a charter member of the Iron Triangle.

But, their position is changing. It looks to me like they are cutting the American auto industry loose by encouraging more strict CAFE standards than the administration, and cutting the coal industry loose by acknowledging the necessity of addressing carbon concerns.I know some of you think I'm delusional, seeing changes where none exist like patterns in the grounds in the bottom of a tea cup.

They still haven't addressed the base of the problem-exponential growth in population and energy use. I expect reality will soon address the increasing energy useage in the world. We cannot let up on our message!
Bob Ebersole

NEWS FLASH: Cars WILL be taken off the road, and there WILL be less miles driven. The same price increases that provide incentives for more fuel efficient vehicles will also cause people to drive less, or not at all. What the NPC says or doesn't say will have absolutely nothing to do with this.

They COULD have said something that would help make life a little easier for the many people that will be squezed by higher prices -- they COULD have said something in behalf of ramping up electrified rail transport in a big way quickly. They elected not to, so they elected to be part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Enhance science and engineering capabilities and create long-term opportunities for research and development in all phases of the energy supply and demand system.

When did we learn to double talk like that?

When did we learn to swallow it?

How did we get to Being There?

O.K., cynicism and sarcasm are well and good and we know it's the "hip" pose to take nowadays ("whatever!" as the kids like to say) but I am going to make you dig a little deeper on this one step back, so if you come back, I want to give you about a day or so to tell me what you think is the objectionable "double talk" in the line you quote....educate me....(by the way, I saw "Being There" when in my youth, loved it, a beautiful and moving film, beside being thought provoking....Peter Sellers at his best, and it's easy to forget (because she can be such a kook in some ways) how endearing and lovely Shirley MaClaine can be, one of her best and classiest roles too....:-)

Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

"Enhance science and engineering capabilities" = tech solution, in the name of Big Corp.

"long-term opportunities" = only 20 years (as opposed to sustainable)

"in all phases of the energy supply and demand system."
To me, this appear so "we want to control both supply and your consumption (and keep it high)" hidden between the letters. This is what makes me fear that sentence.
That's perhaps the apparent "double talk"?

I would have preferred "Research activities funded by the state to look at efficiency gains, and how these can be accepted by the consumer, as well as researching how a sustainable and secure energy supply system can be developed for the period 2050 to 2100 (which include decentralized energy prodution, renewables as well as CO2 free fossil fuels, for the advantage of the citizen and stability of economy". Is there not a slight difference?

(although whats best for both citizen and economy has been debated since a few thousand years :)

I rented Being There about 3 months ago, and Shirley MacClaine is still sexy and funny. It's a wonderful satire, and really exposes the mindset of the establishment. I wonder if Chance the gardener gave them the idea for the mindless Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush? Peter Sellars is one of the funniest guys I ever saw. Incredible physical control-like all the best commedians, he almost dances.
Bob Ebersole

I rented Being There about 3 months ago, and Shirley MacClaine is still sexy and funny. It's a wonderful satire, and really exposes the mindset of the establishment. I wonder if Chance the gardener gave them the idea for the mindless Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush? Peter Sellars is one of the funniest guys I ever saw. Incredible physical control-like all the best commedians, he almost dances.
Bob Ebersole

The last scene where he walks on water may be just what we need to deal with the coming oil situation in a few years.

I just hope its not just the survivalist doomers who remember their waterwings!

Let's break the frames down into their basic components:

1. Enhance science and engineering capabilities

The "enhance" word implies that all the necessary "capabilities" are already in place, that the ONLY "capabilities" we need are those of the science and engineering kind; and now we merely need to make some slight adjustments by "enhancing" those capabilities. All hogwash. We need major breakthroughs of the cold fusion kind in order to mitigate the energy crisis facing us. We need social/market capabilities for spreading the new breakthroughs. "The Market" as it currently exists is incapable of marshaling together a Manhattan Project or an Apollo Project as some dreamers would have us believe.

(Image to the right represents an interface enhancement to a software product. If only energy were that simple.)

Continuing with our breaking of the frames down into their basic components:

2. ... and create long-term opportunities for research and development in all phases

This a multi-level piece of sophisticated think tanking.

First, who is the "we" that is going to "create" out of thin air all these "opportunities"? Do you think "The Market" is going to create? The government? The poor and impoverished of the world? Calling Captain James T. Kirk to the rescue? Who?

Second, "opportunities" is one of those overly exuberant econo-speak words that economists come up with but that have no meaning. Exactly what is an "opportunity"? Everything is an opportunity. If you're alive and breathing you have an "opportunity". The question is how real and practical is that "opportunity"? What exactly are you going to be researching and developing? How to maximize your $ROI on ethanol investments?

Thirdly, as for "long term"; well just don't get me started down that endless road.

Fourthly, "ALL phases"? Can you name me ALL of the "phases"? Do I need a phaser gun from Star Trek in order to engage with all phases of the X-and-Y system? This is pure spin and unbalancing gobbledygook talk meant to scare your brain cells into submission. What! You admit you don't know all the phases? What are you, an imbicile?

Last piece of breaking the frames down into their basic components:

3. ... in all phases of the energy supply and demand system.

What "system"?
Do you actually believe there is a system?
Do you believe that TPTB have organized a "system" for rational migration from one type of energy extraction, distribution and utilization "system" to another one on a just-in time basis?

The folk in New Orleans are still waiting.

Which "phase" of the all phases stuff does New Orleans represent?

That is what the dialogue is about. Make no mistake, this is a propaganda war. The entrenched energy industry is using every tool at their disposal to fend off the alternatives, to ease the concern, to protect what they have.

Above is your observation.
There is the "system".
A system of very sophisticated mind control using highly advanced double talk to subdue the insurgents.

"The Market" as it currently exists is incapable of marshaling together a Manhattan Project or an Apollo Project as some dreamers would have us believe.
I think it important to recognize what those two projects produced: two bombs and 16 moon shots. And, they were definitely not produced by a market. The other thing they produced was victory in couple of wars. But that is not the kind of thing we need. If there is any government example that is close, it is more like converting a bunch of state highway systems into the interstate system. But, even more, we do need a market system that provides energy at a lower cost than we are paying now. If we confiscated Exxon Mobil's profits and put them towards the war, they'd cover less than half of the cost. Undercut oil, gas and coal and you have a path to much greater prosperity. This is not a war we need to win, it is a war we need to make irrelevant.

Retail solar is already down to $3/peak Watt and it is headed much lower. Already that is 6.6 cents per kWh over 25 years, cheaper than most retail electricity. Wind is competitive with wholesale gas in many places now. I expect silicon PV to get to a production cost of $1/peak Watt in the next 3 years and other technologies to beat that at $0.50/peak Watt in the next 7 years. We don't know yet if those technologies will be a durable as silicon, but 2.2 cents per kWh is cheaper than just about anything. This is the reason that investment bankers are starting to get into solar in a big way. Morgan Stanley will own some of Walmart's solar equipment in California for example. Markets are very good at making big changes when price differences are large.

Right now, the numbers look good to convert in under 2 decades on the energy side but converting the fleet to say plug-in hybrid technology might take longer since the first mass production may only start in 2 years, while 500 MW solar plants are coming on line now and the new silicon purification technology should be scaled up in three years. Heading towards 1 cent per kWh seems to me to be a trajectory to prosperity and very doable. I should note that in the numbers link above, this continued reduction in cost is not included. At least for the company I sell for, the plan for older equipment that is replaced with improved equipment is to find markets in developing countries where power use is still lower than here. So, recycling may happen here, or plants may be moved to where the silicon is.

two bombs and 16 moon shots. And, they were definitely not produced by a market. The other thing they produced was victory in couple of wars

But it also created a new level of commercial technology that have been responsible for the information technology revolution and the potential for commercial nuclear energy. Basic research is dependent upon governmental outlay because of the lack of profit motive.


If it wasn't for the Cold War and our crazed desire to build more ICBM missiles, the whole integrated circuit (IC) business may have never gotten started.

If it wasn't for the Cold War and our crazed desire to build attack-secure communications, the Internet may have never gotten started.

Many of the technological enterprises we laud today as having been birthed by a "free market" are actually the bastard children of monopolistic military expenditures.

I would rather take a portion of the Pentagon budget and make direct investments in technology for the express purpose of solving problems, than wait for some kind of trickle down from all the money wasted on defense.

I agree that government supported basic research can have huge long term benefits. What we have to deal with the energy situation now is the result of programs started by the Carter administration. It is very fortunate that we had a president who understood energy at that time.

But, that is what we have to work with now and we need a market to do the large scale implementation of those developments. We might try something like the TVA, which did get power up and running quickly for aluminum production and uranium enrichment during WWII. But mostly I see government's role now as making it easy to get off of fossil fuels. Loans, like those that helped people get refrideration could help. Regulating utilities to ensure that people who generate their own power get credit for the power the send to the grid. Maybe even footing the bill for energy storage. But, all of the equipment we need to make likely has to be done by private enterprise competing to do the best job possible.

... all of the equipment we need to make likely has to be done by private enterprise competing to do the best job possible.

A small dose of sunlight falls on my rooftop and another small dose (1Kw/m^2) falls on yours.

What we need is "cooperation" not competition.

If you leave it to the corporate world to devise a solution, they will convince you and I to give them for free, the solar energy that falls on our roofs; and then they'll turn around and sell it back to us.

Heck, they already do that with the "mineral rights" under your house.

P.S. The large successful companies don't follow along with that "competition" BS. They conspire with each other, they merge and acquisition with each other; all with the goal of maximizing the take-home-pay of the head honcho. They don't "compete to do the best possible job"; they lie, cheat and steal so as to maximize their private welfare. Get real. BTW, are you interested in buying some back-dated stock options, eh? Now there is some good clean old fashion "competition" for you. Yup those honchos upstairs are competing because they have only YOUR welfare and best interests in mind. They're doing the "best possible job" for you.

Like Peak Oil, corporate lying and cheating is another inconvenient pink elephant in the living room that MSM seems to always gloss over.

(We disreport, you decide --the most trusted Fox in the news henhouse.)

The energy payback period is around 3 years for solar panels and they have a 30 year lifespan. If we can use fossil fuels to create renewable energy sources, we are getting a 10 to 1 gain on our energy usage. This is being smart, not dumb..I would rather be smart.