...To Grandmother's House We Go: Peak Oil Is Here

This is a guest post by Glenn Morton, a geophysicist in the oil industry. For Kerr-McGee Oil and Gas Corp., Glenn served as Geophysical Mgr Gulf of Mexico, Geophysical Mgr for the North Sea, Dir. of Technology and as Exploration Director of China. Currently he is an independent consulting geophysicist, and you might know him as seismobob.

I have intentionally paraphrased this wonderful Christmas song because it has much to say about the future after peak oil which I am now ready to say has already happened. As energy declines, we will indeed go to our grandmother's house--one without electricity and running water, sewer or septic and deep, mechanically pumped water wells. At least that was MY grandmother's house. She lived on the Kansas prairies of the 1890s. In the 1960s I asked my grandmother what the greatest invention of her life had been. She said electricity because before they had lights, everyone went to bed shortly after sun down because it was simply too dark to do to much. There was no air conditioning, so the summers were very hot. In the winter, trips to the outhouse were cold (and brutally awakening if during the middle of the night). While she had wood where she lived, about 100 miles west of her home, people had to burn dung as is done in Tibet today. See the picture below of the dung plastered against the house. When one wants to cook, one retrieves a patty.

Without cheap energy, we go back to my grandmother's house or one quite like it...

Yes, folks, peak oil is here, that thing that politicians don't speak of; that event which cornucopians (those who believe that we will not run out of energy) believe is a fraud or misunderstanding is here. The cornucopians believe we are wrong because many have predicted that we would run out of energy before and have been wrong. What they lacked was the 20-20 that hindsight gives one. Today, we can see the peak behind us.

First, how do we recognize when peak oil is about to happen or has happened? The first thing is that it always comes with a gradual decline in production. Steep changes in production curves are due to political or economic decisions. Let's look at Saudi production from 2001 to the present. (NB: Click all graphics throughout this post to expand them to full size.)

The first thing we notice is that it is declining from January 2001 to January 2002. That is the recession resulting from the collapse of the tech stock bubble, causing a worldwide reduction in oil demand. The world then began to recover. In January, 2003 political events in Venezuela shut in that country's oil. We find this

"January 12, 2003: OPEC held its 123rd meeting to review oil markets in Vienna, Austria. OPEC decided to raise its production quotas from 23 million barrels per day to 24.5 million barrels per day, effective February 1, 2003, in order to ensure adequate supplies of crude in response to the oil supply shortfall in Venezuela" http://www.eia.doe.gov/cabs/opec.html

This was a short-lived, very steep increase in production, followed a couple of months later by a nearly equivalent sharp drop in production. This is not a sign of peak oil; it is a sign of political manipulation of production. The next thing we notice is the sharp rise in production in April, 2004. This was due to the rise of price above $40/bbl, a level which OPEC had previously thought would cause a recession. They opened the taps to try to damp down the price. What they didn't count on was that China's and India's consumption had taken off like a rocket because of their economic growth. The price continued to rise, showing that scarcity of oil had come.

After a year and a half of all out production, we see the first signs of decline, normal natural decline in the Saudi production. The plateau of production is followed by a gradual decline in output. One might be tempted to say that the decline in production was due to declining prices, but this isn't true for the period from Oct. 2005 until July 2006. The price rose but the production declined. The gradualistic tail on Saudi production is what an oil field decline looks like.

Just as I was finishing writing this page, I saw this report.

Nicosia, Sept 8: Saudi Aramco in its Annual Review 2006 said that last year the company's crude oil production declined by 1.7 percent, while exports declined by 3.1 percent, compared with the previous year.

Crude oil production in 2006 averaged 8.9 million barrels of oil a day (b/d) and exports 6.9 million b/d. (http://www.dailyindia.com/show/172345.php/Saudi-Aramco-reports-oil-outpu... ) To me, the interesting thing about this is that with a 3.1 decrease in exports, this means that there is a reduction of 266,000 barrels per day available to the rest of the world. Production doesn't really matter to the rest of the world. Only exports matter. If the Saudi's used all of their oil, there would be nothing left for us to use. This data confirms that their exports are decreasing faster than their production is decreasing.

Let's take another example, the United Kingdom.

From 1995 until 1999, the UK production was a plateau. But in mid-1999, the monthly production began to gradually decline. I moved to the UK in August 2001, looked at the curves and told a colleague and fine geologist, Steve Daines, that the UK had peaked production. He disagreed. We made a bet for a lunch that at the end of 2000, the UK would produce no more than 130,000 tonnes of oil. I took below that figure, he took above. Instead of a lunch, he and his wife had me and my wife over for a wonderful Malaysian dinner cooked by his beautiful Malay wife. We ate that meal with gusto along with a Turkish couple, that they knew. The sad thing was that the UK production decline has continued even into this year. When I left the UK, I told one young geologist that if she wanted to have a career in the oil business, she was going to have to leave the UK. While that day hasn't come for her yet, it will. No one will pay geologists to manage fields that aren't producing. The above curve is what peak oil looks like for a country--a plateau followed by a gradual decline that is inexorable.

Now that we know what peak oil looks like, lets look at the current global production of both black oil (crude) and Total Liquids (crude plus condensate--a liquid that comes out of natural gas wells which is usually clear).

What we see here is that following the post-911 recession, there is the ramp up of production to supply the increasing demand from China and India. By late 2004, the rate of increase in world crude production (blue curve) slowed, reaching a peak of 74.3 million barrels per day in May 2004, marked by an arrow. The trend from that time has been down, gradually I would admit, but down none the less.

So, why do I call this the peak of world crude production? Isn't it possible that new production will come on line and lift that number above the 74.3 million bbl/day? Possible, barely, probable, no. Why? All the world's biggest fields are in decline, and they produce a large percentage of the world's oil. We saw Saudi Arabia's production, and that represents 10% of world oil. So, we know that 10% of the world's oil in in decline. But the Saudi's are the second largest producer. Russia, the largest producer of oil, is, at best, flat in production now. The U.S. is the third largest producer of oil (something that surprises everyone) and we have been declining in oil production for 30 years. These three countries account for 28% of the world's production, all in decline.

Mexico has the 3rd largest oil field and that one field represents 2/3 of its crude production. It is in decline, plummeting 20% last year. The UK, Norway, Indonesia, Oman and China are all in production declines. The only places on earth that are undergoing significant increases in crude production are Angola, Kazakhstan and Brazil. Kazakhstan will always be limited to the size of the pipeline it has available. Pipelines have fixed capacity.

Given all this, it is hard to see how the future is going to bring forth vast new quantities of daily production.

Another objection: Above I said that peak oil was a plateau followed by a decline. Could we be in the plateau of world production? Yes, that is certainly possible but for the reasons I list above, the current levels of production simply can't be maintained. Annually, the world loses 5 million bbl/day of productive capacity. The curve above shows that we are not adding to world productivity rates even 5 million bbl/day per year of productive capacity since 2005, which would have keep us absolutely flat.

Now, one other thing makes me think that this is the peak of world crude production. The price response in relation to the supply. Usually if price is going to bring forth new supplies from OPEC (who supposedly has all these vast untapped oil fields just waiting to be turned on), it would happen in sharp steps. The Saudi's have not increased production since late 2004 or early 2005. Yet, because the price has gone up from that time, if they had the oil, they could have made lots and lots of money. But they don't seem to be able to take additional advantage of the oil price. In spite of high prices, indeed, increasing prices, no one on earth seems to have the excess capacity sell more oil into this rising price environment. Given the past history of cheating on the part of the OPEC members, the lack of new supplies coming to market must say something important about its availability

Another interesting feature is the total liquids curve (the red curve). This is both black oil plus the clear condensate from natural gas wells. This curve also seems to have peaked, but peaked a year later, in July 2006. Thus, we are 2 years out from peak crude oil, but only one year out from a probable peak liquids.

What are the implications?

The most important thing we need to know is the rate of decline, which of course, we don't know and won't know for a while. We can delimit it a bit. a 1 million bbl/day decline from May 2005 until May 2007 represents approximately a .75% decline per year. Hardly something to worry about right? The first year of UK decline was only about .5%. The second year of decline was 9%, but then, the UK is a much smaller place than the world, so it is unrealistic to expect the world to follow precisely the UK pattern of decline. We can expect the world crude production to decline much faster in the next few years than it is right now. How fast remains to be seen, but even a 5% decline will mean that in 10 years we will be producing only 60% of what we do today! Instead of having 85 million barrels per day of total liquids, we would only have access to 50 million barrels per day.


Clearly that kind of restriction in oil supply means that either mass transit must come to America as it is in China, or we must only go to work 3 days per week. In 10 years, having only 60% of the oil we have today means 40% less driving for everyone. Going to work only 3 days per week, would mean the destruction of the economy. Most jobs can't be handled across the internet. How does one do the job of grocery store stocker by telecommuting? Even today though, the relatively mild oil prices we have experienced have altered the driving habits of the American public. I sent this chart to a friend last summer. The chart shows the change in mileage driven on US highways from last year. If we drive more this year than last year, the number will be positive; if we drive less, then the number is negative. As you can see, the response to the rise in the price of oil (green curve) has been that for the first time in 27 years Americans are driving less than the previous year. The last time this happened was during the Iranian hostage crisis!

Expect more of this in the future.

Another implication is that automakers shouldn't make gas guzzlers. Those old enough to remember the Iranian hostage crisis, when everyone had to take turns getting gasoline on alternate days, knows a bit of what it will feel like. Back then, people stopped buying big cars. The V8 went out of style in the 1970s; it was too expensive. I expect the Hummer will meet a similar fate.

Suburban sprawl won't work

American cities will need to restructure to be more like European cities, where one can walk to the stores. In Aberdeen, Scotland, most Aberdonians shopped daily because they had tiny refrigerators. But that didn't matter, if they forgot something, they could walk to the store in about the same time it takes me to drive to the store here.


Flying will become like it was when I was a child--the province of the rich. I did not get on a commercial jet until I was 25 years old. My children grew up with flying and have seen far more of the world than I have at an equivalent age. But, as oil prices rise, fuel costs will bury many airlines. As far as I know, I own no airline stocks either directly or indirectly through mutual funds. They are not going to have a growing clientele as energy costs go up. We have already seen one of the impacts of the energy costs to this sector. Years ago, I was speaking with my wife's brother-in-law who used to work with Boeing. Boeing had made the choice to go energy efficient with their planes, while Airbus had decided to go BIG. I told my wife's brother-in-law that Boeing had made the correct choice. This is from a Business Week web site:

"Instead, the show could highlight a growing list of woes at the company, based in Toulouse, France. On June 1, Airbus acknowledged that the first deliveries of the A380 will be delayed up to six months, from mid-2006 until early 2007, due to unspecified production difficulties. Then Emirates airlines, which had been expected to announce a big order for the A350 at the air show, said it was not ready to make a decision. Airbus sales chief John J. Leahy, who said earlier that he might announce more than 100 orders for the A350 in Paris, now says big orders could come "a week or two after."

Has Airbus lost its mojo? The past few months have been rough. Boeing, after trailing Airbus on orders for the past three years, has racked up 255 orders as of the end of May, compared with only 196 for Airbus. Even more worrisome, Boeing's new 787, which boasts better fuel efficiency thanks to lightweight composite materials and next-generation engine design, is proving a hit with airlines. They have placed orders and commitments for 266 of the jets, while Airbus has yet to announce a major deal for the competing A350. Meanwhile, the A380's order book has been stuck at 154 since last year." Why Airbus is Losing Altitude," June 20, 2005, http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_25/b3938069_mz054.htm

And a more recent news source notes that Boeing has won 706 orders for its Dreamliner while Airbuss has only 154 for the A350. Energy is king in the airline industry, even if a government run airplane manufacturer thinks they can change the laws, both of the land and of physics.


One percent of world energy use goes to fertilizers. High energy prices will affect fertilizer use. Indeed, we can see that now. This is a plot of inflation adjusted oil price divided by 100 (so it will fit on the same chart) with the barrels of oil equivalent energy of fertilizer applied per acre of wheat. One can see that when oil prices are high, fertilizer use is low; and vice versa.

Few city people know that an acre of wheat has 1.3 million wheat plants--a density hard to achieve if one is throwing seed by hand. Corn is sown at 30,000 plants per acre. Such densities require mechanical sowers. To sow corn at these densities by hand would require 42 hours (5 seconds per seed). This kind of puts into perspective the utility of energy for our tractors. If the price of oil goes up, there will be fewer bushels per acre because of the combined effects of less mechanization and less fertilizer. Now clearly for a while efficiencies will help. People will figure out how to apply fertilizer more effectively; but eventually not having fertilizer will come into play.

I am fond of citing a little known fact I got from a Walter Youngquist article. Mechanization allows a farmer to spend 4 hours per acre and produce 160 bushels of corn per acre. Back in the 19th century, it was 500 hours per acre an 30 bushels of corn per acre. This of course brings an interesting conundrum to those expecting corn-based ethanol to fuel the world. Without petroleum-based fertilizers, there won't be enough corn to feed us much less fuel the world. A five fold drop in corn yields would leave many in the world starving.

It is unlikely that we will be able to have air-shipped strawberries from Argentina in the winter, so food will once again become seasonal, like it was in my childhood before globalization.


Water and food are entirely linked. Without water, many crops won't grow, but we also need water to drink. A few weeks back the Wall Street Journal gave a couple of interesting facts about farming in India.

"Since the 1990s, India has been a major net exporter of rice, shipping nearly 4.5 million tons last year.
"But annual yield increases began to slow over the past decade. Farmers cranked up fertilizer and water use, draining the water table. Many began planting two crops a year, taxing the soil. Punjabi area officials discouraged farmers from planting two crops and in some places outlawed it, but many farmers ignored them."
"I'm doing mischief against the government,' concedes Kanwar Singh, a second rice crop recently on a stretch of flooded land near the northern India city of Karnal. He says he now has to pump water from 300 feet below the surface, compared with 70 feet 10 years ago." 'In a year or two, maybe it will be finished,' he says." Patrick Barta, "Feeding Billions, A Grain at a Time," Wall Street Journal, Saturday/Sunday July 28-29, 2007, p. A10


"Lakhbir Singh, 35, this year planted aerobic rice for the first time. He says his costs have tripled over the past decade. His well was about 60 feet deep 10 years ago; now, it's down to 450 feet, and he has to use a special submersible engine to help haul the water to surface. The health of his soil has deteriorated, so he's using more fertilizer." Patrick Barta, "Feeding Billions, A Grain at a Time," Wall Street Journal, Saturday/Sunday July 28-29, 2007, p.A10

One simply MUST have energy to pull that water up from depths of 300 to 450 feet. Without it, there will be no water. Which raises the question, what will these poor guys do when the electricity isn't there to run their pumps?

But this isn't a problem for poor Indian farmers. When the electricity is off, the water pumps, which pump water out of deep wells will not be running. That means that agricultural irrigation will be interrupted. That means that city water supplies won't flow either. Both wells and surface water systems require electricity to move the water from source to your favorite drinking fountain.

Energy source

Another implication is that coal will have to play a larger role in the US energy budget over the near term. We can use coal to make diesel, electricity and thus mitigate, for a while, the coming problems. Coal can be used to manufacture fertilizer and avoid the problems (for a while) cited immediately above. We will use coal or our economy will not function. We will simply have to lose our aversion to coal and the CO2 it produces. I have asked many greens this question: If it comes to a choice between your child freezing in the dark or burning coal, which would you choose. I have yet find one so pure to their principles that they tell me they would let their kid freeze in the dark of a winter night. They all will burn coal to keep warm. Having lived in a society (China) where coal is the major source of energy, the smog is almost unbearable. There were days I could taste the sulfur in my mouth as I walked to work in Beijing. But we are no different than they. Their choice is also one of burn oil or have no heat in the winter or cooked food. The only alternative would be to chop down all the trees (which has almost been done in wide areas of China).

Yesterday there was an article in the Wall Street Journal talking about the coming electricity problems for Texas. Due to the success of the Greens at stopping TXU from building coal-fired power plants, in 3-4 years, Texas will probably start having similar problems to those California is having. California, and now Texas, stupidly decided that we would rather freeze in the dark rather than burn coal. We get 60% of our electricity from fossil fuels, coal, oil and natural gas! The decisions we make today will have immense impacts on your ability to go to work (how is your computer going to function without electricity? Do you really want to be able to drink water from the fountain on your 27th story office? Won't you just love walking those 27 stories each morning to get to work, which will put you in great shape if you don't have a heart attack during that first month of climbing). I suppose deodorant sales will increase in such a situation.


I will finish with personal story from my life overseas. When I lived in the UK, I saw what happens when the oil is shut off. In Sept 2000, the lorry drivers blockaded the refineries. My wife and I were brand new in the UK and driving back from a play in Aberdeen one night, we saw huge lines at the petrol stations. We wondered what was going on, but we drove on home not wanting to be in such long lines anyway. Unfortunately, those people in line, knew that the refineries had been blockaded, I didn't. By the time we realized it, the petrol was gone. That led to many interesting experiences. In one week, the food on the store shelves was gone. By two weeks, police and fire and ambulance were having trouble responding. Farmers were about to have to slaughter chickens because they couldn't get feed after only 2.5 weeks. Construction sites shut down. I learned through that experience that a society has about 3 weeks after the oil is shut off. Food ceases to moveinto the cities.

How can economic growth continue if each day into the future we have less energy than we had the day before??? This is a historic moment in human history. For the first time in 10,000 years, we have less energy than we had yesterday. And that will continue into the foreseeable future.

A well written piece.


Yes indeed a well written paper. However on the mention of food, you forgot one important factor everyone is forgetting. A paper was written on "Assessing Terrestrial Ecosystem Sustainability" by Mohan K Wali et al at Ohio State U in Nature & Resources Oct-Dec 1999 pg 21. And it states:

As temperature rises, photosynthetic activity in plants increases until the temperature reaches 20 C. The rate of photosynthesis then plateaus until the temperature hits 35 C , where upon it begins to decline until at 40 deg C photosynthesis ceases entirely. Since we here in southern ontario Canada live in the heart of corn and diary farming, it will be interesting to see the fall harvest crop reciepts and volumes.

On a personal note, we planted 40 peaches and cream corn stalks and watered(rain barrels) religiously every night and only harvested 15 cobs of corn. Every plant in the garden didn't to good except the carrots and the spinach. Yet we have smashed record high temps all summer 32 - 38 C.

20C 68F
35C 95F
40C 104F

increase, plateau, decline, familiar words?

There are some awesome wineries in Ontario. My husband and I spent a few days in Niagara on the Lake and toured some of the wineries. I was stunned at how good the wines are!

Interesting about the corn and spinach. I have a very intensive garden plot in Washington DC; I'd have rain barrels (but they don't work in a drought).

This year I had lots of spinach and almost no corn. No peaches from my two super dwarf peach trees although I'm not sure if that was due to the heat, lack of water, or lack of bees.

I've heard others (500 miles north in New England) with similar stories.

Bob in DC
~live sustainably~

Great post.

I remember my grandpa once telling me when I was a kid, that he hadn't even seen money until he was about 15 years old. I remember asking him about that and realized that he lived on a farm, they did not pay income or property tax in 1890. He did not have electricity, no telephones, no cable TV. The heating they did was from chopping wood, and the water they got was from a hand pumped well. They kept pigs and no cattle. They had no cars, no tractors. Their plows were pulled with horses. They kept seed stock and no fertilizers except manure from the pigs. They grew potatoes and roots for winter. They kept the animals and killed them as they needed meat. No refrigeration. They cut blocks of ice for cooling, they had root cellars. What need of money did they have. The parents for sawmills, milling or whatever. But think of the bartering they must have done then.

So, its back to grandmothers house. Sort of like the Saudi proverb. My grandfather rode a camel, I drove in a car, my son flies airplanes. His son will ride a camel.

Thank you I tried to say this to FF, but I will comment on the other posts.

True that photosynthesis has temperature curve, it also has a CO2 curve. I for one, am less worried about global warming (the Cretaceous had 2500+ ppm in its atmosphere and the world continued), and along the east coast of the US is a strand line (old beach) which lies 30 feet above present sea level and it was formed within the past million years. I don't think there is much threat of Canada experiencing, like Dallas, TX, did, 69 straight days above 100 C.

then you're wrong.

The Arctic regions of the planet are heating much faster than the equator, just as the models predict.

Canada will get hotter. And fast. If Chicago can have weeks at 100 *Fahrenheit* (-- which is what I presume you meant, not 100 C?), then so can Toronto.

I think the Cretaceous number is not relevant to the debate. Human beings weren't alive in the Cretaceous, and we don't know what the surface temperature was. The Permian Extinction took place at c. 1000ppm. There's enough sub-permafrost methane out there to do it again.

30' on the sea level looks like something that might be achieved in the next 50-100 years-- some suggestion even faster. The data from Greenland is absolutely shocking, and so is what the British Antarctic Survey is coming back with.

But in a sense it's irrelevant, because it's the storm surges which are going to be the real threat. that and the mass extinctions.

The Colony Bee disorder is reminding us just how dependent we are on an intricate web of life, that we do not fully understand.

I am wrong about what? I said the world is heating up. I think you would agree with that.

I am not wrong about the Suffolk Strandline

"The Suffolk strandline at 20-30 ft altitude, extends
discontinuously from New Jersey to the eastern Gulf coast, with a
mapped extent, including gaps of at least 800 mi. The plain
extending eastward from it is covered with sediments (Cape May
formation, Pamlico formation) containing a marine fauna recording
temperatures higher than those of today. At. At four localities
these sediments overlie a zone of rooted tree stumps (cypress and
cedar), showing that the Suffolk sea was preceded by a sea level
lower than the Suffolk and possibly lower than that of today.
Radiocarbon dates on wood from two of these localities imply that
the pre-Suffolk low sea level antedates the last major glacial
maximum."~Richard Foster Flint, Glacial and Pleistocene Geology,
(New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1957), p. 266,267

The Cretaceous (not to mention the early Tertiary) is relevant because it shows that the world's biosphere will handle that kind of CO2. I am not wrong about it having an extremely high CO2 content of the atmosphere. http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/99/12/7836

I would also point this out:

" The first evidence of C4 biomass
being a significant part of local ecosystems in the Old World
is about 7 to 8 my. Carbonates from preserved paleosols in
Africa, Asia, and Europe older than 8 my have del 13 C values
from about 10 to 12 permil. Figure 7 and table 2 show that
there are compatible with a maximum P(CO2) level of about 700
ppmV." Thure E. Cerling, "Carbon Dioxide in the Atmosphere:
Evidence from Cenozoic and Mesozoic Paleosols," American
Journal of Science, 291(1991):377-400, p. 394
Miocene Pakistan <700
Miocene E. Africa <400
Eocene Wyoming <600
L. Cretaceous Texas 2500-3300
Spain 1600-2600
U. Triassic/
l. Jurassic New Haven 2000-3000
New Haven 2500-4200
Fundy Rift 3000-6000
Thure E. Cerling, "Carbon Dioxide in the Atmosphere: Evidence
from Cenozoic and Mesozoic Paleosols," American Journal of
Science, 291(1991):377-400, p. 394

The problem is that people don't know geologic history very well. They think the Roman Empire is old and everything relevant has happened during that time frame.

Today, Canadians are the largest per capita energy users on earth. A warmer Canada will make them more energy efficient.

I agree that we are dependent upon the intricate web of life which we do not understand. But it is interesting that you seem to implicitely believe that you do understand it because you are making predictions of what will happen. If we truly don't understand it, we can't make predictions. One can't have it both ways.

As to storm surges, when I was living in China and my wife still here in the US, we had a terrible hurricane season in 2005. I moved back in 2006 expecting a continuation of bad hurricanes. They aren't here.

One of my worries about this sight is a phenomenon I dubbed Morton's Demon (google it). It is a form of group think. It can fool one into beleiving almost anything. I worry that by reading the oil drum I am falling into a different form of group think. But, since numbers are semi-objective, and I can't get the energy numbers to work, I believe Peak oil is a problem. I am less worried about global warming, which is happening and which is at least partly due to human activities.

Many here will scream that I am a warming denier (akin to a holocaust denier). Group think denies others the right to be wrong so those who scream are affected by group think. Truth will allow someone to differ because truth knows that it will win in the end. This will be my last response on the topic of global warming.



if you are so inclined, we appreciate your help in distributing our contributors' work around the web.

You state that Russias production is, at best, flat, while ending the sentence by conluding the 3 largest producers are in decline.

It wouldn't surprise me if Russia is indeed in decline right now, but it undermines the conclusion.

Edit: Great piece by the way, but I doubt oil-based deodorants will be affordable

"but I doubt oil-based deodorants will be affordable"

Put on your Phish and Grateful Dead records, it's time for Patchouli Oil...

Cutting consumption by 40% doesn't automatically mean commuting only three days a week. Since the 1970s, the distance that people travel to work has been slowly creeping up. A large chunk of the necessary future conservation is presumably going to come from people living nearer where they work.

Right. The biggest single improvement the average person can make in their energy use is to carpool or take transit to work. A reduced availability of gasoline will promote carpooling and transit before it promotes the three-day week.

Agreed, and going to motor scooters instead of huge-tire pickup trucks will also help.

I have the Vespa GTS250ie. I am very happy with it. http://www.vespaportland.com/vespa_gts250.htm

It is well-built, gets about 70 mpg if you are conservative in your driving around town, but is capable of highway speeds. Insurance is about $160/yr. The price however, has crept up about 10% since I bought mine in June.

The financial markets in a sense are all built on a house of cards of CONFIDENCE. Is the recent turmoil the markets realising the fact but no one want to say those 2 words? OR// is the turmoil an undetected symptome of peak/flat oil production?

If we are told our economy is debt based and requires ever increasing growth and our 1 growth driver disappears, does that CONFIDENCE disappear. Maybe this is WHY the iron triangle is in collusion to play down/shut up peak oil - because they well know the fact.


Our societies are built on a "house of cards of CONFIDENCE".

I depend on you an other drivers to stay on your side of the road.

I also have a shoulder harness, air bag, and insurance policy just in case not all of you do.

Pay attention to what is happening in the alternative energy and energy conservation part of the house. Oil is not the only answer.

Bob, I would sincerely like to be wrong in my assessment of the future. However, when I was a director of technology, my charge was to find the technologies my company needed and try to get them into the company. One of the things I looked at was replacements for oil. Every single scenario for energy source which I could find simply wouldn't work when the numbers were run. Either there was a limited (non-renewable fuel like uranium or coal), or we would have to use unreasonable amounts of the world's landscape for solar. I have heard people speak of using Gallium-Indium-arsenide solar cells having a 40% efficiency. That is fantastic. The only wee problem is that there isn't enough Gallium or Indium in the world to make many of them.

Therefore, I would ask that if you want me to pay attention to the alternative energy sources, run the numbers. Show that they have a chance of replacing oil.

Otherwise we may not need money in the future.



I don't have the background to run the numbers.

That said, there are two methods for achieving ~40% efficiency with solar. Gallium is one, multi-layer cells are another. I don't know if there is a shortage of materials for the latter approach.

That said, we seem to have thin-film solar shipping for under $1.50 per watt wholesale and are likely to have thin-film shipping for closer to $1 soon.

The "available landscape" issue is a non-issue. We wouldn't even need half the available rooftop space if we were to go totally solar with low efficiency panels.

And solar is not the only part of the solution. People get so off track by trying to make solar or wind or tidal or whatever the ONE answer. The answer is a mix, just as we mix coal, oil, nuclear, and hydro now.

BTW, I didn't even throw in thermal "towers". Recent number crunching found that we could supply all the US energy needs (I don't know if that included autos) in 92 square miles. That's a ten mile by ten mile space. Or maybe it would take more. But ...

"Do concentrating solar plants require a lot of land?

Relatively speaking, no. Consider the Hoover Dam. Lake Mead covers nearly 250 square miles. A concentrating solar power plant occupying only 10 to 20 square miles of land could generate as much energy on an annual basis as the Hoover
Dam did last year. Taking into account the land required for mining, concentrating solar power plants also use less land than coal power plants.

From a report on the solar towers now operating in California...


"we seem to have thin-film solar shipping for under $1.50 per watt wholesale and are likely to have thin-film shipping for closer to $1 soon "

A link ??? I am shopping for panels and have not found anything close to this

That's wholesale, large quantity purchases. You and I aren't going to be buying at that sort of price.

That information was posted on this site in the last 2-3 weeks. A search should turn it up.

I just bought some panels and the best price I could find was a bit over $5 per watt for "normal", not thin-film panels. Prices are up at the moment due to high demand and a manufacturing bottleneck.

When I bought my system about three years ago I was able to get the panels for a bit less than $4 per watt.

The system I set up in the early '90s? Over $8 (1991 dollars) per watt.

The panels I bought for my sailboat in the '80s? More than that....

Hi Bob,

First to refresh the minds of any readers. Bob had said that we should watch alternative energy and not be so worried. I asked Bob to run the numbers and show me how the alternatives were going to work.

He replied:

"I don't have the background to run the numbers."

Without trying to be too confrontational, Bob, Don't you find this a wee bit incongruous? I am a physicist by training, and I can run the numbers. You say you don't have the background to run the numbers, yet you are the one who says we don't have a problem. Do you find this even the least bit incongruous?

PS: I have run the numbers. I can't make them work.


Hmmm. A physicist should know that there is plenty of nuclear fuel. Maybe you should go back to school.

Maybe you should.

Maybe it would dissuade you from being a jackass.

There's an infinite amount of oil at the right price too.

You obviously didn't learn that.

Maybe you need a few more degrees.

Good summary of the issues we face.

I don't think though that things will come as clear as you presented. It will be more interesting, paradoxical and irrational.

Pretty much like the GW science. The Globe is warming but there are a few things that won't work out exactly the way scientists are predicting. Mainly because we live in a very non-linear planet, where the connections are not understood very well.

Same goes for PO. Just how will Texas and California endure without coal? Perhaps it is best, not worse, for these states to endure the first shocks, as they are in the first row to conquer renewables. Will that effort be enough? I think it all depends to the timing of WTSHTF, barriers to development, renewables speed of scaling out.

There are too many variables. One could write an endless list of science fiction previsions on how it will exactly play out.

Even those who finger at the "star trek" hypothesis as "cornucopian" ignore that in the very star trek history, the 21st century meets famine, world war, economy destruction, total mayhem, before a new renaissance comes along. Of course, in ST, it all depended on the creation of the warp drive and meeting other races. I won't bet on that ;).

But, anything can happen. I think we live in the most extraordinary of times, because the future is really a blank sheet waiting to be writen. Or, in other words, it doesn't matter too much for history how many of the issues were that we faced, but how we face it.

Hope we face it the best we can.

Star Trek reference high-five!

Any solution to peak oil, global warming and poverty will depend on wide or universal access to contraception.

This is a great article, especially the bit on oil.

I agree that the problem is mainly one of over population. There is an enormous disconnect between the new realities facing us and peoples perceptions; and I see that every day.

Regarding the TXU plant. Our esteemed government here in New South Wales has just decided to build a new coal plant. Premier Iemmma on making the announcement asked: "Do you want the lights to go out?". Still it is not a done deal and I hope the greens win here, just as they have in Texas.

What his response indicated was an alarming lack of imagination. Yes, our energy growth here in New South Wales, just as in Texas, is relentless. The answer of course is 1. conservation, just plain using less. This is a matter of leadership and organisation; and 2. an agreesive push into renewables. This should be achieved as far as possible by increasing the cost of electricity so that all the costs are included in the price people pay. I am talking here about what economists call externalities, the cost of pollution, CO2 and land fill for the ash. By removing these "hidden" subsidies the FF industry has enjoyed for decades, the renewables energy sector should be able to compete. If not, the benefits of clean energy are so important that direct cash subsidies become justified.

Politically it will be very difficult, but that is what leadership is about. Making people understand and accept the suituation, even if the change and the new arrangements seem less comfortable than before.

This ignores the implicit snipe at the "greens" contained within the article. I am not a green. But I am very concerned about CO2 and the rate of melt of the grounded ice sheets. Scientists are now saying CO2 emissions, must now not just stop growing, but actually decline. I personally think it is too late. The melting of the arctic sea ice this year was a real shock. While sea levels are unaffected by melting floating ice, this years melt represented another tipping point demonstrating that we have lost control. The Albedo effect on millions of square miles of ice was lost and the heat was absorbed directly by the ocean. This movement to halt and reverse CO2 emissions has grown from nothing to a global clamour in less than a year as more and more alarming evidence of GW comes in. I suspect that the political pressure to halt CO2 will become unstoppable in the next year or two - just as PO and the Export Land effect are beginning to bite hard.

It is a real pity that people in the US are politically so far behind the curve on GW. It really is a much bigger issue elsewhere around the world. That is a direct failure of US leadership and is a result of the myopic, greedy, self serving and idiotic position adopted by the US administration. Australia under Howard has behaved as badly.

Luisdias wrote:
"I don't think though that things will come as clear as you presented. It will be more interesting, paradoxical and irrational."

I fully agree. The world is entirely nonlinear and everything will be different than we expect. I recall hearing of a guy who saw WWII coming and decided to move to an insignificant part of the world---Guadalcanal (or some similar island).

As to alternatives, I recently learned that if we can solve quantum computation, it might bring an energy source.

"Atoms have energy levels that differ by a few electron volts. Quantum coherence among a trillion atoms would allow the atoms to concentrate the energy differences of the levels on a single atom, and this would be 10 TeV, the amount of energy needed for the baryon-annihilation process to go forward. So indeed the engineering insight needed to make a practical quantum computer is exactly the same as that required to annihilate baryons, to create the ultimate rocket and the ultimate energy source in the universes-expanding phase. I therefore expect the two problems to be solved about the same time, by the same technique." Frank J. Tipler, The Physics of Christianity, (New York: Doubleday, 2007), p. 72-73

There is only one wee side-effect of this process. To use it as an energy source would put into the hands of the average human enough power to blow up the earth itself. Given that there are always some nutters who wish to take us with them when they depart this earth, such a power would make for a mighty short life-expectancy for the world.

This is about the only power source I think has a prayer of taking us into the 22nd century. But how would you like to have Al Qaeda have access to it?


I won't worry about al_Qaeda.

If you annihilate baryons you get extremely hard gamma rays.

These do not like to interact with anything usefully engineerable, and they do like to cause unhealthy radiation hazards.

And besides, what about thermodynamics? You need a sustainable gradient to produce useful energy. Quantum computing isn't about energy generation and it shoudln't be.

Let's come back to reality. In reality heavy highly charged particles---like nuclei from fission products---which deposit their energy very locally are the only physically practical subatomic solution relevant to the timescales of both peak oil and global warming.

We shouldn't dick around with TeV dreams as a solution---it makes the wildest green 'activist' solar-panel cornucopian seem like a dull utility-company CPA.

We need relatively good nuclear ASAP---along with everything else---to replace dirty black coal.

Agreed, that we need nuclear, and that is the only in sight realistic solution. But have you looked at yellowcake prices lately? They are soaring because there isn't enough.


Speaking of nutters... At least you didn't quote an excerpt from The Physics of Immortality.

As for A-Q, about the only thing they can figure out is box cutters and fundamentalism. I wouldn't go long on their engineering insight. Let's see if Binny can keep his cave up until they figure out quantum coherence (an oxymoron if I've ever heard one.) So, nix your A-Q fantasy.

Now, those Iranians... But, they'll be bombed back to the fifth century by Dick Incorporated before their Islamic physicists are able to figure out what European and American scientists got crackin' seven decades ago underneath the football field at U of C and elsewhere in academia.

Nice long article you wrote up here. I've read half of it. I'll read the next half tomorrow. Thanks for contributing.

Physics of Christianity...


Well, I bet more on Dr. Brussell's efforts.

He already got his 2mil dollars for his seventh model. If it works, he says he's fully ready to get a fusion power plant ready.

Luisdias wrote:
"Physics of Christianity...


Well, I bet more on Dr. Brussell's efforts.

He already got his 2mil dollars for his seventh model. If it works, he says he's fully ready to get a fusion power plant ready."

I feel sorry for people who can only learn new things from people with whom they are in ideological agreement. Their intellectual lives must be quite impoverished.

Tipler is a professor of physics at Tulane University and was co-author of a very influential book, the Anthropic Cosmological Principle with John Barrow.



"I feel sorry for people who can only learn new things from people with whom they are in ideological agreement. Their intellectual lives must be quite impoverished."

Back to impoverishment for me! I guess I won't be winning a Templeton Prize anytime soon. :~(

However, that's not it at all. In fact, someone gave me Immortality and I even read it (all of it, ugh.) It was so god awful I can't imagine what Christianity has to offer. Although, maybe he hit it out of the park this time.

But, like I said, intelligent life. Yeah right, pass the pipe...

Ok, I stand corrected on why. I read Immortality and felt his view was falsified by the Hubble constant. It still is unless life does something to change it. However, he did seem to take to the ultimate limit the view that the human mind is nothing but a computer. The thing that did interest me in that quote I put up was that there was a possible energy source out there of which I was previously unaware. Low chance of success, no doubt, but in the 1920s people thought nuclear energy and bombs would be unlikely to be developed. And, in my view, any real solution to the long term energy crisis requires something utterly revolutionary. None of the conventional options out there will get us to the end of this century.


To me, the revolution is in business methods which make large up front investments more doable at the consumer level. Right now we pay out for and oil well or a power plant up front because we can borrow to do so. For renewable energy, there is much more of an intersection with individual users. You might like this development.

The site you recommend has this statement:
"So we just divide the 1.2 TW of energy we use that we calculated earlier by 75 W per square meter to get the number of square meters we need. Divided again by a million gives 16000 square kilometers. The square root of this, 126 km, gives the length of the edge of the square which is about 80 miles."

I am missing something here. This page says we use 1.2 TW. The BP Statistical Review of World Energy (2007's issue) says that the electrical generation in just the US is 4500 TW or 1.2 TW. But, that only accounts for electricity. The US uses 2326 million tonnes of oil equivalent per year. Using BP's energy use by fuel and assuming that coal, nuclear and hydro are included in the value above, means that the US uses approximately twice the value this guy says we do. We would need 32,000 sq km or a square 178 kilometers on a side.

Now that accounts for a 20% efficiency. Have you considered transmission losses? I don't know what they are, but I do know they exist. They might be small or they might be large. Wikipedia says they are 7.5%. That then reduces the system's overall efficiency to 18.5%. That would mean we need 39,000 sq. km or a cube just shy of 200 km. on a side.

I wonder if I am forgetting any other loses here. For scale, that is the distance from Oklahoma City to the Red River about 120 miles.

Any holes in the grid of mirrors, any sunlight falling on the ground would increase the area proportionally. Are there any spots in this grand grid where sunlight peeks through to the ground?

edited to add, what is the mirror efficiency?

It really doesn't take all that much energy to power basic stuff. Most energy is wasted. Within two years we should have production automobiles that get over 200mpg. Your grandmother could have electric lights at night with the installation of two or three compact fluorescents and two or three solar panels to run them. Trains worked fine in the era before fossil fuels. Apparently they didn't consume much power.

We could run a modern economy with perhaps 25% of the energy now being used. What does it all boil down to, really? Computers and electric lights, I think, and the occasional train ride. Not a very high hurdle really.

Hi econguy.

Lets runs some numbers on this. Sure 200 mpg cars will lower demand for oil, plummet the price and paradoxically then increase demand for it. As I see it it would take at least 5 years to change out to 200 mpg cars. Most people cant afford to dump a car that they haven't paid off. And most notes are 4-5 years. This isnt something that will happen overnight.

Secondly, yes, those fluorescent bulbs. That is all I have in my house, save two remaining incandescents. That is all one sees in China, where I lived for a year and a half. But China's energy demand is going up faster than is that of the US. Bulbs and cars won't stop an increase in energy demand if most of the demand increase is occurring in places where people are going from no cars to cars. All we are faced with here is a change from incandescents to fluorescents--(which contain mercury).

Concerning solar panels, I think you forget that there is an energy upfront in the manufacture of those solar cells. I found this on the web.

"The total energy requirement to produce a PV panel is 1,060 kWh/m2. In Sydney the useable panel output will be 153 kWh/m2/year [0.42 kWh/m2/day], giving an energy payback time (EPBT) for the panel of 6.9 years. After mounting in an open field or on a roof the EPBT will be 11.5 or 8.3 years respectively. These energy payback times are well short of the likely system lifetime of 30 years." http://www.urbanecology.org.au/topics/solarpanels.html

I see that the average home in the US consumes 10656 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year. That would mean 69 sq meters per home. Now, that will fit on the average home roof, but the energy required would be 1683 kWh/m^2 if one includes mounting. There are 125 milllion housing units in the US. If I did my math right, that represents 131 million barrels of energy just for the conversion or $10 billion.

Is this doable? yes, but not after oil production gets into serious decline.

I am amazed that you think all a modern economy consists of is computer, electric lights and an occasional train ride. Who mined the metals which go into those trains? How was it shipped to the factory? Who shipped the food to the workers who built that train? Where were the electronic circuits built? Probably where the computers were. Where did the neodymium come from which is inside those chips? Who provided the phosphors in your computer screen which contain europium, yttrium, and terbium??? The glass on the front of your computer monitor containsns cerium and yttrium. I have little doubt that the cerium and yttrium walked to the computer factory in China and then the computers swam the ocean to get to you, all without using any energy needed to run this modern economy.

Yeah, running a modern economy isn't much of a hat trick. All those rare-earth minerals separate themselves from the host ores without using any energy whatsoever!

econguy, I suspect your post is an example of why peak oil people can't get traction out there in the political landscape. Everyone thinks the modern economy works like magic--it certainly would appear magical to anyone from first millennium Britain.


The energy pay back time for the solar panels being used in commercial applications, e.g. Walmart, is between 1 and 2 years. These tend to be thin film CdTe panels. Silicon can also be made at close to this range though often a little higher. Evergreen Solar uses a ribbon technology that is very efficient. There is also a new silicon purification method that looks quite promising for reducing energy use.

One of the truly counterintuitive things about solar power for those used to depleting resources is that the EROEI of PV inceases with time. The energy needed to recycle a silicon panel is one third that needed to make it originally. So it gets easier to use as time goes on. When you use a solar panel you are doing something good for yourself, but something even better for your children because you have given them a head start. Using depleating resources, what you use is something your childen cannot use and what you leave for them will also be harder for them to use because you used up the easy to get stuff first.


"The total energy requirement to produce a PV panel ...an energy payback time (EPBT) for the panel of 6.9 years. After mounting in an open field or on a roof the EPBT will be 11.5 or 8.3 years respectively. These energy payback times are well short of the likely system lifetime of 30 years."

I see that the average home ...would mean 69 sq meters per home. Now, that will fit on the average home roof...

Is this doable? yes, but not after oil production gets into serious decline.

We spend ~10 years of energy to get back 30 years of energy.

That, to me, doesn't sound like a terrible investment. It's a much better investment than drilling a dry hole.

And we don't have to do it will oil. If we made the upfront investment to create a solar panel plant run by solar panels (not they way I'd go, but let's use the example for the moment) we would have used up ~10 years of oil to produce a non-ending source of solar panels.

What we do, IMHO, is create a new grid supply using multiple energy sources in the most efficient manner. We're laying the groundwork for that right now. We've got wind, we've got solar, we've got (in modest amounts) wave and tide. We've got battery and pumped storage in modest amounts.

We're in the learning stage, working out the bugs and developing better equipment.

We may not be smart enough to get the new system up and going before oil scarcity oil starts to really pinch, but as the problem becomes more and more obvious to larger and larger numbers of people we won't have to be scrambling for ideas. We'll just have to ramp up our efforts at implementation.

I am very familiar with the workings of the present economy. Probably rather more than yourself.

What I'm saying is:

The difference between a "modern" economy and that of, perhaps, 17th century Paris, is what exactly? What is it, exactly, that we would absolutely, positively, not want to give up? And what could we give up with no particular sense of loss whatsoever?

I think it boils down to:

a) Good sanitation. Trash collection and plumbing/sewage, good water supply, daily hot showers.

b) Relative unimportance of infectious disease. This is a combination of good sanitation and medical advances.

c) Electric lights, computer/internet, a few home electronics perhaps (I can live without the TV but I like music), possibly refrigeration. No need to go back to whale oil lamps.

d) A bit of fuel for cooking. Beats wood/coal.

e) Some form of heating for winter. The best form of heating is good insulation. Better than no insulation/coal/wood.

f) A certain amount of mechanized transportation. Subways and intercity trains are fine with me in urban areas. I have lived without a car before in urban areas, and actually I prefer it. A certain number of mechanized commercial vehicles (trucks) would be necessary.

g) There are a number of non-technological drawbacks of 17th century Paris, notably the system of government. Of course we would like to optimize this.

So, the more interesting question is not how many solar panels does it take to power Little Suzy's electric hairdryer, but rather how few solar panels does it take to provide the fundamental advances outlined above?

People have been living off the grid for several decades now, so there is ample evidence of just how much it takes. To provide the very basics takes maybe 1 kilowatt of solar for a small family. (A kilowatt of solar means solar panels capable of producing 1 kilowatt of electric power in strong direct sunlight. This is about six standard solar panels.)


OF course you could add more, and enjoy more appliances and conveniences. But about 1kW provides the basics of electric light for a small (<500 square feet for single or couple, <800sf for a small family) abode, and a bit for a computer etc. Probably you would need a little more for a refrigerator, but not much more for the high-efficiency Sunfrost models. Sunfrost's RF12 refrigerator/freezer consumes 290 watt-hours per day at 70F ambient. That's about 12 watts. For a family of four, that's three watts per person.

I know many Americans would shoot themselves in the head rather than even entertain the idea of living in an 800sf abode with their families, but this is about the size of a standard 3-bedroom apartment in most large cities in the world. In Tokyo it would cost you about $550,000 (I was looking at real estate there just a couple weeks ago), and you'd be lucky to get something that cheap in New York, London, Singapore or Paris.

As for transportation, as I mentioned I have lived for several years using only electrified rail-based transportation, so maybe someone could estimate the power needs there. I believe it is about 10% of the energy consumption of personal automobiles per passenger/mile, not to mention that there tends to be far fewer miles because train-based cities are much more compact.

Sanitation and medicine are pretty low hurdles energy-wise. A composting toilet doesn't use much energy (none in fact except for its manufacturing requirements).

So, it seems to me that pretty much all the fundamental advantages of modern living, as compared to 17th century Paris, can be had without using much energy at all.

By the way, 1000 watts of solar would produce probably about 100 kWh per month, or 1200 kWh per year. Which is about 12% of the average US house electricity consumption you cited above. Yet, people live off-grid with this supply, and they enjoy all the usual modern conveniences. Indeed I myself have lived in urban apartments with about a 1200 kWh/year rate of consumption, with no particular hardships.

They aren't squatting in the dark rubbing sticks together.

Good post. Some 'other opinions'.

I live off the grid with 1.2 kW of panels. I run two computers, music, refrigeration, pump water, provide light, and run power tools as I build.

I am quite familiar with Sun Frost, they are manufactured close to where I live and I know the guy who started/owns the company. But they don't pencil out, at least for me.

I found it less expensive to buy an 'off the shelf' Energy Star 18 cu.ft. Kenmore and more panels/batteries.

The 1.2 kW can mean 7+ kW on a sunny day. That gives me plenty of power to pump several hundreds of gallons to my garden and orchard. In the winter, when the garden is dormant, my water needs are less which makes it easier to get by on the shorter 'solar days'.

And it doens't take a lot of energy to power a flush toilet. We're talking 1.6 gallons per flush. I can pump about 600 gallons with 1 kW of power. If my math is right, that's about 3 watts per flush. (Your numbers might very with the depth of your well.)

Econguy wrote:
"I am very familiar with the workings of the present economy. Probably rather more than yourself."

I apologize if I offended you, but when you stated it the way you did, that all we need is a bit of electricity to keep computers going, that certainly sounds unlike any economy I have had familiarity with. Given your definition that a 17th century Parisan life-style is ok, it is, except for the fact that we have about 6 times more people than we did then. If crop yields fall, people and nations will get rather cranky and we might very well sit in the dark after a few wars over energy happen, especially given the power of modern weapons.

I would also point out that when you say:
"Sanitation and medicine are pretty low hurdles energy-wise."

I would agree with sanitation. I do not agree when it comes to medicines.

"Pharmaceutical manufacturing plants in the U.S. spend nearly $1 billion each year for the fuel and electricity they need to keep their facilities running (Figure 1, below)." http://ies.lbl.gov/?q=node/351

That is 167 million BOE. That is not a low energy hurdle. Indeed, one of my worries is about the pharmaceutical industry.


When you agree that sanitation is a low hurdle energy-wise I suspect you're talking about operating cost for an in-place infrastructure system? Now look at system condition through something like the annual ASCE US infrastructure report card and consider life cycle costs of the system as a whole. Lot's of embodied energy there that must be maintained and/or replaced. Does it have a 100-yr life? More? Less? At 100yrs, steady state would require 1% replacement of entire system annually. Non-trivial.

Edit: BTW, thanks for the article and discussion. Very interesting.

I take it as poetic evidence of the damage that the use of fossil fuels has already done that you have shifted the date of the song from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

I would also say that you are so pleased with your question to your green friends where you pose a false dilemma to them about coal that you are probably not taking the time to listen to their answer. The song you cite speaks of the wind blowing when it is cold and the growth in Texas wind energy has likely played a role in TUX deciding not to build coal plants. Both new wind capacity and new transmission are happening much faster than coal plants can be built.

It is incorrect to say that we have less energy than we have had in the past. We will have less oil, less gas, and less coal simply because we are using them up. But, you conflate their use with the use of renewable energy prior to industrialization by giving a 10,000 year timescale. We are now 100 times better than plants at harvesting solar energy so our mode of obtaining renewable energy is completely difference from our preindustrial methods. The growth in availability of this energy is headed towards 45% per year and at this rate will replace other sources in about two decades. Wind, is already meeting much new demand as can be seen in Texas. So, in the foreseeable future, it looks much more like there will be more rather than less energy available. It is just that that energy will be of a higher quality than the fossil energy we have been briefly using since it won't be messing with the seasons.


Chris -

Can you recommend a site (or sites) that do a good job of discussing wind/solar/etc.?

A place where new info is posted and the quality of member input is high?


You can get some market stats for solar from solarbuzz.com and for wind from awea.org though the market is moving so fast that I tend to google the news pretty often. Slashdot and TOD both have discussions on renewables. This is a recent slashdot post on solar. There is discussion at some level on green party email lists and a number of folks track solar news on our company website. environmentalleader.com keeps track of commercial solar installations pretty well. If you have questions that I can answer I'll try to answer them here if you like. I also do the Real Energy blog.

Hope this helps,


"I would also say that you are so pleased with your question to your green friends where you pose a false dilemma to them about coal that you are probably not taking the time to listen to their answer."

- Despite my being more of a doomer than a techo-fixer, I agree with that and with other comments in this page that say that there are other options between burning coal and "freezing in the dark". Especially so here in the US, where houses are very large (more people can move in, sharing the cost of heating), and 80% of driving is NOT commuting to work, and will be avoided before skipping work, although I do realize that the very act of other people avoiding the discretionary driving and shopping will mean that one's job may evaporate even before one cannot afford the commute.

mdsolar wrote:
"I take it as poetic evidence of the damage that the use of fossil fuels has already done that you have shifted the date of the song from Thanksgiving to Christmas. "

I stand corrected. You are absolutely correct and I was absolutely wrong. Good catch.

mdsolar wrote:
"It is incorrect to say that we have less energy than we have had in the past. We will have less oil, less gas, and less coal simply because we are using them up. But, you conflate their use with the use of renewable energy prior to industrialization by giving a 10,000 year timescale. "

I believe that the world has already passed the energy per capita peak.

"World energy production per capita from 1945 to 1973 grew at a breakneck speed of 3.45 %/year. Next from 1973 to the all-time peak in 1979, it slowed to a sluggish 0.64 %/year. Then suddenly —and for the first time in history — energy production per capita took a long-term decline of 0.33 %/year from 1979 to 1999." http://dieoff.org/page224.htm

So, it is correct that we have less energy today than we had yesterday.



What I liked best about that was the cornucopias up and down the link. Glad you enjoyed it.

I think you want to look at trends after 1999 to see where renewable energy is going. Certainly conservation played a big role post 1979 so I would look more at a plateau than at a decline after 1979. It seems doubtful to me that we'd get any big dips that are not owing to more efficient energy use as with the dip after 1979 while the need for more energy capacity will be leveling off with the leveling off of population. At some point, we don't need more energy per capita and while industrial activity is picking up in Asia to support consumerism in the west, there are only so many plastic gnomes that people are going to want to buy. I expect per capita energy production to increase especially since $1/Watt solar power makes electrification in developing nations so much easier that what we have been through, but I just don't see the plateau as meaning much more than a saturated (per capita) energy market. It is not as though price or supply were limiting in say 1985 or 1990. To get a big dip, we would need to see the electrification of transportation proceeding much faster than electification in developing counties. Since solar has a head start on transportation batteries, I'm not so sure this will happen.


Glenn on Saudi Arabia:

Yet, because the price has gone up from that time, if they had the oil, they could have made lots and lots of money.

Glenn, lets imagine that Saudi production had not fallen since mid-2005. Would you care to specualte where the oil price might be now.

I'll be back with some charts:-))

We could make the same argument about Texas. The common theme in both cases is, "If only the large fields had not started watering out."

Come on, Euan. Look at the charts yourself. In 2004, KSA increased production about 1.3 mbpd but prices went up from $40 per barrel to about $55 and then continued on up to over $70 per barrel.

If you suggest that price would automatically fall due to higher production then how do you explain that event? It goes completely against your thesis. Higher production did not drop the price. And global oil production rose from the 83 mbpd range to the 85 mbpd range. I hear this canard from you and others that higher production must mean lower prices. You cannot prove your assertion!!! And further, I can show recent cases that behave exactly the opposite of your assertion (like the one I just pointed out).

The truth is that we do not know what would happen to price if production increased. You do not know! I do not know! You are making an argument that has no solid basis when I review price from 2004 to now. You might focus on one tiny movement from $65 to $60 and you ignore the entire movement from $38 to $83 recently. And frankly, I am tired of you and others automatically assuming that price must go down if production goes up. You lack evidence so stop making the assertion as a counter to actual data that shows the exact opposite.

I come back again, Euan, to the question I asked you previously. The world has done exactly what you claimed were your criteria for declaring peak yet you personally insist on resisting calling peak. I see a man afraid of the facts laid bare in front of him. It's either that or there are additional criteria that you have not disclosed despite my previously asking and you assuring me that you had told me what you thought would mark the onset of peak oil. Think on that very hard, Euan. The world already meets your definition of peak. Either you have additional criteria that you have not disclosed to me and others or you are just fooling yourself. And I did go back to read that thread and I did reply. I don't recall you ever clarifying further than what you originally laid out.

So are we post-peak, Euan? And if not, why not? Because by your own criteria, we're there. So if we're not, I want to know why you think we are not.

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

See Euan's post below. He makes a very solid case, as have many others with their own takes and emphases.

The real problem, as I see it, is the amount of variation and uncertainty between informed peoples' assessments.

That should be the clarion call, should it not?

Ah, so he is relying on Skrebowski's mega-projects list. That narrows the question, I suppose, to when do people stop believing in projects that have not (so far) appeared as promised?

Let me remind everyone that, according to Skrebowski in 2004, the year 2005 was supposed to be the "big one" for new production coming onstream. Then in 2005, it was going to be 2006. Then 2007. Do we detect a pattern here yet? Anyone?

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

Grey Zone, here's how I responded to your query of last week. Sorry I didn't get back to you but I was travelling.


GZ - I have some fairly simplistic views on this. First, I view historic production data as demand. So when production has gone up and down that reflects demand going up and down.

Second, since around 2001, there has been a pretty strong price correlation with production / demand. There was at any rate a year ago, the last time I looked.

Most production forecasts actually forecast production capacity - so this is often missleading on a chart that presents historic production because the past is demand the future is capacity. Khebab has a population forecast line on his charts which is actually projecting demand based on population and population growth. There has been a remarkable correlation between demand / per capita consumption and popultaion growth in the past.

So putting all this together - in the recent past, in general terms, when production has fallen that has been due to weak demand and the oil price has also fallen. When production rises, demand is strong and the oil price has gone up. What I am waiting to see is production decline and rising price. That for me would be a clear signal that the production drop was not due to falling demand but rather a lack of supply.

I'd also say we were enetering interesting times with the current high price. This presumably reflects strong demand. If production does not now rise to meet this demand then it will be a new ball game.

You got to remember that we are often squabling over the details of timing. I do expect to see production rise later this year and next if demand holds up. If it doesn't and the oil price heads for $100 then I would agree we were in peak zone.

I've been doing some history matching on Skrebowski's work which I may publish on my return from Cork - where the Guiness is glistening in the sunshine.

The key here is that I see past production as demand and forecasts as capacity (that may not be used). I'd say that we are in a grey zone where light sweet is most likely in decline but we have growing capacity in NGL (which is still a bit obscure for me) and we have excess capacity of sour crude in Saudi + an array of new projects comming on as I detail below.

Had Saudi production not fallen, my expectation is that this would have had little impact on global production which is a mirror of demand (higher cost production would have been axed), but price would have fallen further (stimulating demand). So Saudi would have had a larger share of the cake but at lower price.

In summary, I agree that prices have risen but am not convinced that current plateau represenst a fall in production in the sense of Global production decline.

Yes, I saw that response. Did you see my reply back? You claimed you were looking for production decline and rising price as your marker. I countered that you have exactly that from May 2005 to now and from July 2006 to now. Since that decline and large price increase (from the $55 range to over $80) hasn't yet triggered your peak marker, you obviously are still waiting on additional data. That's what I asked about.

Down below you make it clear that you are waiting on Skrebowski's mega projects to pan out or not. But let me remind you (and I linked the last 3 years of mega project reports in today's thread) that the forecast production increases for 2005, 2006, and so far in 2007 have failed to materialize at all. This has been due to both decline being larger than anticipated and production delays on some projects. Skrebowski himself even calls the rate at which new projects coming online as "wholly unsatisfactory", which might be the understatement of the month regarding peak oil.

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

They already have a huge budget surplus due to the high prices. As you imply, if they had pumped more, prices may be lower, but the result of that is that they make less money and have less oil in the ground. Doesn't seem like the best choice to make. They may be in decline, but the fact that they are not pumping more to lower prices and reduce their income doesn't seem complete proof.

Their recent statment to the effect that higher oil prices are "necessary" to offset the effects of the decline of US Dollar value does seem to support the SA "decision" not to increase production. Personally, I believe SA has peaked, but the decline of the dollar vs oil price nexus is interesting.

But if you run the numbers of dollar versus Euro and the price of oil, KSA is still making far more than they were a year ago.

could you define "budget" surplus ?

Their budget surplus was over $77 in 2006 when they were expecting a surplus of $14.7 billion (so they had a surplus surplus).


My guess it will be much higher in 2007.

Euan Mearns asked:
"Glenn, lets imagine that Saudi production had not fallen since mid-2005. Would you care to specualte where the oil price might be now."

I saw your charts today at work. I will get to them. Clearly if the Saudi production had not fallen, there would be more supply. My grabbed from where the sun don't shine answer to your question is that I would guess it would be in the neighborhood of $55.

Having lived in China for a year and a half, I have seen the incredible use of energy there. The number of cars on the road is truly amazing. I once calculated that if the Chinese had a North American lifestyle we would need 330 million barrels per day of oil..

The thing that intrigues me about the Saudi production is that it is declining in the face of rising prices. The Saudis went from something like $30,000/capita income to $6000/ GDP per capita around 2000. It has risen to $13000 $GDP per capita in 2004, because of rising energy prices. The unrest in their country was largly because of the reduction of income per person and the unemployment rate. I keep asking myself why would the Saudi's forego the benefit of more money, with the attendant ability to spread the largesse around? The only thing I can think of is that they are physically unable to make more money.

Supposedly they have brought on other fields, yet their production continues to decline. That says to me that either they are resting fields like Ghawar or that the decline rate is larger than reported in the press.

One other thing. Matt Simmons talks about some of the projects in his book. He points out that some of these projects produced 100 million bbl previously and are thus re-developments. He also notes rather low permeability values for some of the fields.

Because of some investments I made, my broker was given a one-on-one meeting with the fund manager for one of my funds. They told him that the world is losing 5 million bbl/day per year of productive capacity simply due to natural decline. That is one Ghawar per year decline! To stay even we need to find that much productive capacity. Having spent a lifetime in oil exploration, I don't think that is possible.

When I was Dir. of Technology, I was in charge of reservoir simulation. The company sent me to lots of res-sim seminars. At one of those, a Shell employeee, in 2004 put up a chart showing the present production, 80 million bbl/day. He said that in 2020 (16 years away in 2004), those fields would produce only 40 million bbl/d. But demand would be 120 million bbl/d. This means that the oil industry must put on line 80 million bbl/d of productive capacity in the next 16 years! Whenever I show those numbers to friends in the business, no one thinks it is possible to put 80 million bbl/d of new production online by 2020! Do you?


[I keep asking myself why would the Saudi's forego the benefit of more money, with the attendant ability to spread the largesse around? The only thing I can think of is that they are physically unable to make more money.]

But as you say the per capita GDP has risen from $6K to $13K between 2000 and 2004. Presumably with the increases in price, the per capita has risen even more since 2004. I would think rising per capita would keep the masses somewhat mollified. If they increase production to lower prices they may lessen per capita and decrease reserves which threaten additional reductions of per capita in the future. It would seem to be a better choice to pump less, make more money, increase the length of time they can pump, and keep the crowds happy for longer.

Without cheap energy, we go back to my grandmother's house or one quite like it...

I appreciate the objective information on this site, but I'm put off by the Henny-Penny-ism.

There's nothing to suggest that we will go from "cheap" energy to "no power at the plug or pump" just because we've passed or will soon reach peak power.

Energy prices will ratchet up. As they have been doing for petroleum. People will tighten up their usage and look for less energy-hungry ways to achieve their goals.

More fuel efficient transportation will be utilized and that big SUV/pickup that horse owners need will be used for fewer non-trailer dragging trips.

People will install more insulation and close off parts of their houses in very cold/hot times of the year.

People will cut back on their electric consumption via purchasing more efficient 'gear' and turning stuff off when they aren't using it.

We will adapt.

We will not return to the stone age.

How about a nice balance of "solutions" on this site along with updates on what's flowing in the pipes at the moment?

Bob - welcome to TOD.

How about a nice balance of "solutions" on this site along with updates on what's flowing in the pipes at the moment?

If you have a lot of time to spare to read all the stuff on TOD you'll find that there is a fare spread of views expressed. Its up to you to express and support with reference materials your own point of view.

Thanks for the (belated) welcome.

While I do have a pile of graduate degrees, including a Ph.D. and several publications in my field, I don't have a physics/engineering background.

What I see on this site is a collection of people with specific knowledge relevant to energy. In all its forms.

I'd like to see the editors, the people who write these big articles spend a little effort on solutions.

Do we really need yet another tome on "oil won't last forever"?

Only the very naive (and simpletons) assume that there is a non-ending supply of that black stuff somewhere under the ground.

Does it really matter whether the "PEAK" was at 3:23 on April 23, 2003 or will be at 17:23 on August 17, 2017?

Oil is finite. We're using it faster than we're discovering it.

What are we able to do to suck up the difference?

What can we do right now?

What is in the "energy pipeline" that looks very promising?

Bob - a couple of months back I did a overview of the previous 12 months on TOD - links to more than 50 articles. Many of them deal with solutions.

My own favoured pathway right now is wind + direct solar + HVDC + V2G + conservation + luck + insurance


This is another link worth looking at:


Perhaps one source of frustration is a lack of clear definitions of "We", and time frames. As a hard core doomer, I am unimpressed with many of the renewable energy solutions which are volunteered. My version of "We" is all of humanity, and my vision of time frame is in the scale of hundreds of years. My concern for humanity extends well beyond my own lifetime.

There are many alternate energy sources and renewable sources. Alanfromthebigeasy's Electric rail and wind farms, photo voltaic and ethanol, etc. What I have difficulty believing is that these alternative sources will provide a sustainable energy source with sufficient return that not only can they be renewed, but they have enough energy surplus to implement an alternate infrastructure needed to use them, and keep that infrastructure maintained, and replaced as needed.

If we can't solve these problems then in 500 or 1000 years, mankind will indeed return to Grandmothers house. We have the greatest opportunity to solve the problem now, while there is still sufficient fossil fuels left. If WE being the current population, can not solve the permanent sustainable solution, i believe it will be unlikely that future generations facing a greater energy challenge will be able to solve it. Even if they are brighter, we may have burned all of the resources needed to implement their solution. I fear that the unwinding may occur on a much shorter timescale. If we face an economic melt down and environmental chaos to boot, I am not optimistic about our chances.


If you're that deep into doomerville, perhaps you should visit your physician and investigate mood elevating pharmaceuticals.... ;o)

We've got lots of oil and coal for the near future. As prices go up those commodities will be used where they are most needed and even more "alternative" power will come on line where it best fits.

If you really want to worry about the future, why not concentrate on the time when the sun will no longer shine.

About 5 billion years?


I don't dispute that there is lot's of oil and coal for the near future. The question is "where are they most needed." Yes we don't need to worry about the future. It will take care of itself. And there are a number of short term solutions. My point and my concern is that if we fail to address the fundamental problem and provide a long term solution we can save a generation or two. But eventually the long term problem, too many people and insufficient resources will force itself to be addressed.

I don't really subscribe to the notion that sobriety is for people who can't handle drugs, though I have been known to enjoy a fine single malt from time to time.

I also agree that when the Sun ceases there will be a problem. That is a bit difficult. Perhaps we should sequester the remaining Coal and Oil to use as an Energy source for those future generations 5 billion years from now to be able to implement a solution to get off the planet. On the other hand, perhaps 5 billion years from now, what is left from us will have abiotically re-generated into new hydrocarbons for them to exploit.


Too many people is being addressed. Not as "intentionally" as one might like, but birth rates are falling in much of the world. There are most likely multiple factors involved.

Children are an asset (cheap labor) in an agrarian society. They are a liability in an urban society. The world is becoming more urban.

Birth rates tend to drop as women become more educated and acquire more power. That's happening.

Birth rates tend to drop when birth control methods are more easily accessed. That's happening lots of places.

Projections are that the world's population will peak (don't you love that word ;o) in a few more decades and then decrease. If we were to invent a better, less expensive method of birth control the peak would most likely happen sooner. (Getting fundamentalist religion out of political power would help as well.)

As for oil/coal being used where it's most needed, the market will take care of that. As fossil fuels become more expensive the grid will turn to more 'alternative' sources. Where alternative is not as applicable, say airplane fuel, the more expensive oil will be used.

We do need to worry about the future. But by "worry" I mean be concerned and work on solutions to the problems that we can forsee. We've been living off the low-hanging fruit on the resource tree.

We are going to have to get some ladders in order to pick the harder to reach stuff.

And we need to plant larger orchards.

As for oil/coal being used where it's most needed, the market will take care of that. As fossil fuels become more expensive the grid will turn to more 'alternative' sources.

By "market" forces determining the use of our dwindling supply of fossil fuels do you mean standing in line at a Mickey D's drivethrough will factor over hauling the kids in the motorhome to the latest Nascar event or vice-versa?
If you could see past that "pile of graduate degrees" you'd know that 99% of our economic activity is used to build CRAP.
And that lone 1% will NOT be enough to insure the survival of our Great Society.
Count me in the doomer camp.

I'm starting to equate "doomer" with "irrational".

Might I be at least somewhat correct?

BW I think you have THE most irrational thinking in regards to PO.
You are a very smart man I fully accept that. You have built yourself a bunker in the hills and proceed to tell us how people live in the desert and farms will be run with electric tractors and everyone will live like you.
Do you accept the world is populated with 6.5 billion breathing, eating, drinking humans.
Do you know people live in Los Angeles and New York, in the suburbs and on farms?
I know you have a solution for yourself and maybe a few million lucky others.
What is your solution for the world.

I'll make a guess
I bet you have enough food stored to last you a year.

I spend part of every year in some of the least developed parts of the world. I'm aware that people can have comfortable and happy lives with less 'stuff' than most of us folks in the developed world think we need. As energy gets tighter most of us will probably need to make do with less.

And those things that we really want/need will need to be more efficient/more efficiently used.

Computers need to be purchased with energy requirements in mind. (I just replaced my worn out 135 watt pull desktop with a 15 watt pull laptop.)

And people need to turn off their computers when not in use rather than leave them on 24/7.

(That's an example. Not a total solution.)

People who live in cities and don't have the space to make their own power need to start pushing on their governments to fund more alternative energy. And, possibly, pay their utilities a little extra for 'green' energy. Just to prime the pump.


And, no, I don't have a "bunker" in the hills nor a year's food put aside. I keep a 30 day supply during the winter as I can get badly snowed in from time to time.

And, no, I don't expect people to live like I do. There's just not enough available land for lots of people to live as I do. I can only live here because I'm retired and don't need to commute to work or get kids to school. This works for me, it's not a solution for most.

My point in this discussion is that folks need to quit hollering that the sky is falling and get busy. There are partial fixes available now. And if we lean on the powers that be we can have more fixes available sooner rather than later.

While we may have enough oil and coal for the near future, if we use it responsibly - what are the chances of that actually happening?

Also, the economy over the past hundred years or so has relied on growth year after year. Who knows what will happen when growth stops?

We will use it "responsibly" just as we use real Balsamic vinegar responsibly. Expensive stuff gets used when it's really wanted/needed and not wasted.

And why would we not have growth?

What do we make, where do we go that we could not make/go with electricity? (And a bit of biofuel for airplanes.)

Our economies "grew" when we had only wind, water and steam power. They will be able to grow when we transition to "more direct solar" power - post dino-stored solar.

Yep.......... and what was the population then?


"Expensive stuff gets used when it's really wanted/needed and not wasted."

Not a total fallacy but...

Stuff gets used where there is enough money to pay for it.

Poor people/countries really want/need food, however, children die because of famine.
Problem is, they have no money.


Let's dig up the rest of the coal until the surface of the earth resembles the moon. Those hicks in West Virginia don't need those trees, animals, and streams anyway!

Bob Wallace wrote:
"We've got lots of oil and coal for the near future."

Ok, Bob, the world finds about 3 bbl for every 10 pulled out of the ground each year. If you pull more money out of your bank account than you put into it, and do that each year for 20 years, would you not think you are going broke?

Please show the numbers. Where is this oil production.

I would point out that reserves are irrelevant to the question. If I put a billion dollars in your bank, you have lots of monetary reserves. But if I tell you that you can only get it out at the rate of $20/ day, I would not say you are rich. Would you think you are rich?

The reality is that production is what fuels the world, not reserves. Too many people confuse the two and think that lots of reserves means lots of production. That simply isn't so.


How much oil will we "discover" at $100, $150, $200 per barrel? Won't we go back to those oil wells that we left because it was too expensive at the time to extract?

Will we really need 20 years of oil at today's rate of consumption? Or will we not continue to develop alternatives at a continued accelerating rate? Especially as the price of oil increases.

Will we not redouble (and redouble) our conservation efforts as oil prices rise?

I'm not suggesting that the transition will be smooth or painless, but we will make it. Humans are pretty resourceful animals.

Maybe the problem is one of inflation. Supply and demand curves make good sense when a market is just some small part of a big stable network of goods and services being produced and exchanged. But when a market is a 900 lb gorilla that utterly dominates the whole system, then it's not just a question of feedback loops - all the measuring scales are getting thrashed around as a part of the market dynamics. You really need a different way to think about the problem!

One simple approach is just to use barrels of oil as your measuring stick. The interesting question is, how much oil do we need to consume in order to produce whatever barrel of oil you might be considering?

This way of thinking makes the most sense when oil is primarily used as an energy source, and when oil is still a primary source of energy. Maybe someday there will be precious medicines that we only know how to produce from petroleum, so it could make sense to chop down and burn many acres of trees to generate the energy required to pump up just a few gallons of petroleum. But such a situation is very different that what we need to be considering at the moment.

It gets rather complicated, of course, to do the accounting correctly. The oil burned to make the steel that was used in the drilling equipment used to explore the field, all that needs to be taken into account. Of course it gets amortized over all the petroleum produced from the reserves that steel is used to discover.

Anyway, at a certain point, the petroleum left will be so difficult to find and extract, that the net energy produced goes below zero.

You can do a search for EROI, Energy Return On Investment. These ideas have been discussed a lot!


It isn't how much oil is discovered. The person who discovered the Orinoco tar belts discovered lots of oil. But it only produces a small percentage of the world production.

Listen very carefully. It isn't the amount of reserves in the ground that matters to today's society. It is the ability to get that oil to market in LARGE(VERY LARGE) quantities. Production is what runs the world.

Sure, we can re-open stripper wells which produce 2 bbl/day. We might even make money doing that. But, to compensate for a 5 million bbl/year decline via stripper wells requires 2.5 billion stripper wells.

Bob, do you know how many wells are producing oil on earth today? I bet you don't. There are only around 900,000 oil wells on earth. The vast majority of them are not stripper wells. The average production per well in the world is about 80 bbl/day.

Now, you are going to ask why one can't use technology to produce more than 2 barrels per day out of some of these old wells. The answer is physics. The capillary pressure holds the oil in those old fields and as the reservoir pressure declines, the hold on the remaining oil rises. Usually we only get 30% of the oil out of an oil field. Capillary pressure prevents the lifting of the remaining oil.

Bob, I always find it incongruous that one who admits that they can't run the numbers is so sure of what we will be capable of doing in the future.


People look at "grandmothers house" as if that was some kind of hell on earth. In the US, urbanization has come along with industrialization so we assume that sophisticated urban areas and lifestyles can't exist without fossil fuel. It's baloney. The Romans had a daily stock market in the second century BC. Look at Paris. Look at Vienna. Look at Athens. Look at Alexandria, or Baghdad. Look at Tokyo in the Edo period, or Kyoto before that, or Bejing under the emperors. These were all culturally rich, sophisticated societies -- arguably more so than today's -- which persisted for centuries without the need for fossil fuels.

They had their downsides too. Mostly poor plumbing. That and some solar-powered lighting, and maybe some trains powered by windmills would about do it. What more do you really need?

Um, "In the US, urbanization has come along with industrialization"?

I think you got that first -ization word wrong. But what do I know, I'm not an econguy like you.

Actually some of us are working on answers. The problem is that in many cases it takes a significant amount of time and money to determine whether a hypothetical answer is real or not. The amount of actual research funding for many ideas is significantly limited, and this, in turn, limits the speed at which these reality checks can be determined. We do discuss possible solutions, and while there are considerable doubts as to viability, the work on ethanol is illustrative of the efforts that are being made to find answers, and of the costs that are incurred in getting to realistic scale experiments.

The implied assumption in your question is that there IS a replacement for fossil fuels, which is probably the issue that divides the "doomers" from the "cornucopians". It is a question of whether we can get buy with just the solar energy that falls in "real time" (plus nuclear) as well as we did using the stored solar energy of many millennia.

There are many ways to look at the future. Those who see no problem in our declining energy resources may be called "cornucopians". But there are many others who admit the need to address this major world problem.

Make no mistake here. The human race will survive complete depletion of oil. The challenge is to move forward with our society mostly intact. Of course there will be big changes, some very destructive. Big changes will always come. Just look at the last century; or the one before that; or the one before that; etc...

It seems that the true "doomers" see a complete social collapse in the future. IMHO this is an incorrect reading of history.

[The challenge is to move forward with our society mostly intact.]

That is the exact issue. Can we move forward with our society mostly intact? The problem is an issue of denial. The longer we deny what's coming, the more difficult the transition will be and the more likely we will not keep our society mostly intact.

I am not a believer in die-off, but I do think we will have massive die-back. The conduct in New orleans post-Katrina (no offense Alan) might be explained by the suddenness of the calamity that confronted them. But that is a reason to stop arguing about when PO will occur and start seriously preparing for it. If we prepare too early, great; if we prepare too late, we will keep little of our society intact.

[It seems that the true "doomers" see a complete social collapse in the future. IMHO this is an incorrect reading of history.]

True social collapse is a matter of definition. I am a doomer because I think we won't prepare, not because I think we can't prepare (although economic collapse will certainly impair our ability to prepare so maybe we won't even have the capability). I see enclaves maintaining 'society', but I do see massive collapse in areas. Food deprivation tends to lead to social collapse, and I don't see any way cities like LA, the Bay Area, Las Vegas, Phoenix, etc. can survive. What do we do with a dislocated mass of 60 million people from the urban centers? But I don't know the history to which you refer. There is little history that parallels what will happen here, except maybe the collapse of the Roman Empire. There is little history of the removal of the energy sources on which a culture and society have depended (unless you read Jared Diamond's "Collapse" but that doesn't bode well for our moving through this crisis).

Twilight asked:

"It is a question of whether we can get buy with just the solar energy that falls in "real time" (plus nuclear) as well as we did using the stored solar energy of many millennia."

Have you looked at the price of yellowcake lately? It seems to be in very high demand relative to the supply.


Make no mistake, I think the answer is: "Not at anything like our present per capita energy usage" - and probably not at our present population.

“Arguing endlessly over the precise date of peak also rather misses the point, when what matters is the vision of the long slope that comes into sight on the other side of it.” - ASPO (Campbell?)

Energy consultant, writer, blogger www.getreallist.com

Amen and amen Chris.

I would add to the idea that it's the uncertainty that matters--that's the theme of my energy policy course this semester.

The future has always been 'uncertain' to a greater or lesser degree. One could argue that 'civilization' is an attempt to reduce the level of uncertainty as much as possible.

Whilst one can have faith and hope that society will survive in some acceptable shape and form, there is no garantee this will happen. Sure, we are very resiliant and resoureful, but that may not be enough. I worry about this strange idea that if we really want something badly enough, somehow we'll get it because we deserve it.

This reminds me of the ideology of Disneyland. Is the ideology of Disneyland at the core of the American Dream?

Whilst decreasing supplies of oil are going to have substantial repurcusions for our lifestyle, our economy and levels of economic growth; I think the biggest impact is going to be seen in our politics.

I think the political and strategic impact of Peak Oil is already apparent for all to see. The United States has an enormous army sitting on top of the world's biggest supply of oil and gas. This is no mere coincidence. Control of this enormous prize is of vital importance to the maintanence the American model, at least that's the opinion of the elite that run the country at the moment. Increasingly the United States army has one overriding and primary strategic objective, securing and protecting vital sources of energy and other important raw materials. One thing is pretty clear, this objective will only become more important in the future.

One could argue that the militarty is becoming the 'armed-wing' of the ruling-class, maybe even a privately controled wing, like Blackwater? A nominally 'private' armed-force totally beyond democratic control and serving who exactly?

The Bush administration is probably the most Peak Oil aware in American history. When they came to power one of their first priorities was finding a way, an excuse to open up the 'dormant' and 'massive' reserves of the Middle East to much needed investment in order to dramatically ramp up production to meet the projected future increase in demand. Iraq was the tempting cherry on top of the cake. It contains the worlds largest and 'cheapest' reserves of light, sweet, crude. The only problem was, how to get it out at a faster rate? That could only be achieved by installing a new, friendlier regime; so Iraq was invaded and occupied. But things haven't exactly gone to plan, but the army is still sitting on top of all that oil, and that's the important thing.

So, if Peak Oil has already influenced our politics by such a degree, what do we have to look forward to in the future?

Hubbert didn't think so:

"Because gas and oil are exhaustible resources, the discovery history of these fuels in any particular area must be characterized by a beginning, a period of increase, a period of decline, and ultimately, an end. In this sequence, the most significant dates are neither those of the beginning or of the end, but that of the transition between the period of increase and the period of decline."

-- M. King Hubbert --

read the FULL version or the Hirsch report and it explains quite succinctly why we need 20years at least to mitigate the worst effects of peak oil (not 2 years after the fact!)



Bob you are absolutely correct. We will make those changes because we can and must.
What will the farmers cut back on?
Interstate transport?
Air travel?
Motor vehicle industry?

All of those (almost all of those) will purchase new equiptment with energy costs in mind.

The incandescent light bulb will basically disappear to be replaced with CFLs and later LEDs. Even though CFLs and LEDs cost more to produce they will be the items of choice once the purchasing department gets the word to pay attention to the cost *after* purchased. Just as they do now when they take into consideration maintenance costs.

There will be an industry wide push to find less energy-hungry ways to do what we now do with energy hogs.

Livestock? Maybe more grass fed cattle. Maybe growing the beef closer to the grain source which reduces transportation costs and gets the manure back onto the fields to reduce the need for artificial fertilizer.

Air travel? Already there is a major move to make more efficient planes. And large scale work on figuring out how to use biofuels in airplanes.

Mining? Electricity. Not a good idea to have internal combustion engines below ground anyway.

Fishing? Perhaps more off-shore fish farms where we don't have to burn as much fuel to look for the fish.

Farming? More organic (30% less energy required to produce corn. No artificial fertilizers.)

And lots and lots of really smart scientists and engineers redirecting their efforts to come up with even better solutions.

(Money to be made - for all you people who read this site for investment ideas.)

Yes Bob....reasonable solutions.
When will all this take place...starting now or when it is absolutely required?
If they are not doing it now it will never happen with any discernible economic benefit.
You forget the human condition, who is going to produce for more than it costs to use oil, while it is readily available?
The change to alternative energy and machines comes at a cost.
Who is going to purchase the more expensive product?
The thinking is and will be, if Joe down the road doesn't want the oil then I'll have it, I can produce more and sell it for less and make hay while the sun shines.........Joe will go broke! Wal-Mart will ensure I thrive......That is capitalism for you.

Big mining is above ground, open cut, 2 and 3 hundred ton Haulpaks, huge shovels, loaders and bulldozers.
Big mining for iron ore, coal, uranium, bauxite, copper and zinc.
I see your solutions working, probably when the population is maybe halved.

Hi Bob,

Your take on peak oil seems to put you in the category of concerned but ultimately optomistic. You may be correct. I don't know. But the argument against that outcome goes something like this:
Peak oil does not claim that we are running out of energy. It claims that energy will get more scarse and more expensive as time goes on. This is diametrically opposed to what has happened in the past where energy has gotten cheaper and more abundant as time went on. It's the implications of the change of direction of this availability/cost vector that causes most of the problems foreseen by the more pessimistic folk on this site.

We in the early 21st century tend to think we're pretty smart animals and we can do anything we put our mind to. Go to the moon, live comfortable lives, build vast and complex infrastructures and machines, maybe invent new forms of energy. But when you really think about it, we've really just been treading water with a huge current at our back - the current of cheap and abundant energy. So when you not only remove that current, but make it so that you have to swim against it, maybe we're not so smart. Maybe (probably), we're not as good as we think we are. That's what the pessimist/doomers think. Once the abundance and cheapness of oil goes away, the human race starts fighting over the remainder like hyenas and lions over a zebra carcass.
Of course what the exact implications turn out to be are completely unknown since it all takes place in the future. However there's no shortage of speculation about them on this site. In fact it's kind of a sport to draw as many connections as possible between events, both current and historical and possible effects on the outcome of the peak oil phenomena.

So welcome to TOD. Sit back, relax and enjoy the show.


Interesting question. When I run the numbers I figure that by the middle of this century, oil will not be a big player. Coal will. But if we replace oil with coal, my calculations say that we turn our 200 year supply of coal (at present useage rates) into a 44 year supply. Wind, solar etc, simply won't generate enough energy except under the most ideal assumptions.

And one thing I don't think people throw into the pot is that when China starts to feel the squeeze on oil, which will threaten their government's survival, they will do things to guarantee their oil supply and their survival. Such actions will bring other countries in to counter their policies and the world could get extremely tense with contries deciding that if they can't have the dwindling oil resources, no one can. At such points, people start throwing nukes at each other.

Call it henny-pennyism, if you want. I call it human nature.


200 year supply of coal (at present useage rates) into a 44 year supply.

Thank you, I'd been wondering about that.


I know of some people who don't think we really have a 200 year supply even at current rates of usage.


I am not sure what you think are 'ideal conditions' for wind power?

As in comparable power cost to new fossil-fueled stations? Achieved

As in available wind resource? Achieved. At least in the 'coastal fringe' countries (US, Canada, UK, anyone bordering on the North Sea, plus a whole long list of other countries including China)

As in grid stability issues? not impossible, with more pumped storage (and there are a whole host of power storage solutions emerging out there). The key is long distance DC transmission of power, and the Russians cracked that problem back in the 1960s.

As in continued technological improvement? Again, achieved. Costs fall by c. 18% for every doubling of installed capacity.

So wind of 15-20% of world energy requirements is definitely on the table. Higher requires more progress on energy storage.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Texas is the fastest growing wind producer in the world. Put an implicit price on carbon, and you create an entry price for wind (or nuclear).

Nuclear is about 16% of world electricity production, and 8% of world energy. And nuclear really is busting a gut to try to grow much beyond that *and* replace the existing capacity.

Solar is further out, but all the signs are good that what is essentially a solid state electronic technology can follow the same cost curves down that the semiconductor industry has.

The Oracle at The Oil Drum. I am reminded of the Matrix, when the oracle says she is telling Neo what he needs to hear. If we believe in the Peak Oil message and act accordingly, then it will not be a problem; there will be no "Peak Oil." If we don't believe in the message, then some of these scenarios could happen, at least to some extent.

Great post. After the somewhat optimistic predictions at ASPO, I was starting to doubt the near-term peak.

My only critisim is altough oil does = liquid fuel it does not = energy. Coal isn't the only electricity option, gas will not hit a peak till 2025 (not including non-conventional gas), coal till 2060 and we have renewables, increasing at a vast rate each year, and nuclear. The UK could replace its entire grid with 50 nuclear plants.

I am just not convinced peak oil = a return to the pre-industrial situation.

I submitted a patent application on GTL, but the lawyer wrote it badly and it got rejected and after a merger, the new company decided not to move on any patents. I say this to preface what I am about to say.

Yes, there is lots of gas. The problem is that it is not where the people are. Currently GTL or LNG requires the producer of the gas to give their gas for free or it can't compete with other energy sources.

China is building 5 GTL importation facilities, they only have contracts for gas for 2 of them. The US, of course is playing nimbyism, so we don't want energy.


How much impact can GTF make - Gas To Fertilizer? How practical is it to stick fertilizer factories where the gas is, similar to the way that aluminum factories are often sited where hydro power is abundant?

Or maybe gas to plastics.

This is one problem I see with the thinking about petroleum exports decreasing faster than production. The impact of that depends on what is happening to the non-exported production. If it is just getting used to produce goods which are then exported... that doesn't sound so bad. OK, some jobs in fertilizer factories get moved to places richer in fossil fuel resources. But if the fertilizer still gets to the crops, the biggest worries will have been handled.

I've heard some rumblings about new plastics factories going into Saudi Arabia. I don't know enough to be able to discern if this is any kind of trend or will happen at a meaningful scale.

Of course this doesn't work for heating people's homes! But mabye it could shuffle consumption patterns around a bit & help that way.


When I was in technology, I would tell my boss that we needed GTA (Gas to ANYTHING including dog food). Frankly, I think your idea isn't a bad one.


But there are tricks.

Google New Brunswick's Canaport. That gas is not for domestic use ;-).

And there is a similar terminal going in in Baja.

In practice, the Woodside design will predominate (offshore mooring and degasification) which will reduce the NIMBY risks quite dramatically. Those terminals will get built.

A more serious problem is there isn't (this side of 2015) going to be enough LNG for all the players who will import it. Now that the Chinese government is allowing purchases at higher prices, the world market is going to be quite competitive.

However the pipelines will get built out of Central Asia. You saw Turkmenistan's announcement?

The mileage of a fully packed Airbus 380 is probably better than that of the Dreamliner on a per passenger basis because of the much higher capacity. The number is about 3 liters/100 km (~80 miles/gallon US) per passenger. That is about 35 gallons for NY to LA. This may mean that the price of oil will need to double a couple of times more before air travel becomes unaffordable for many of those who can afford it now. Clearly people will travel less, but it may also mean that they will squeeze in with 900 fellow passengers in the big Airbus.

Absolutely and utterly ridiculous.
How many will need to be built?
Can they land at any airport?
How much do they cost?
How long does it take to build one?

The point is not that air travel will continue as usual, just that that the same efficiency factors that will favor buses and trains (also very large and expensive) over cars will also favor large planes. It is true that they will probably be confined to large airports, but those are the airports that will be in use at $300/bbl.

Do note that when oil starts to go into second half depletion, the light sweet kerosene goes out first.

Then it becomes a play of supply-distillation capacity matching, afaik.

Not necessarily cheap or supply-guaranteed process?

I envision giant press gangs of prisoners pedalling electric generators - energy into the grid!!

2 million US prisoners all putting out average 150-200W

How much food might they consume?

And all those pet hamsters! They love the exercise of their little treadmills. Hook them up to the grid, all of them.

Or the family dog. This is not exactly a new idea:

Animal Power Treadmills

Dogs with jobs!

Glenn, I agree with your comments about decline. It is vitally important to know what the underlying agregate rate of decline is. My best guess is 4.50%. This shows that every year as production rises more new capacity must be found from a degrading resource base. Peak will occur when we can no longer add new capacity that compensates for this decline. I don't think we are there just yet.

In a recent post I presented this forecast for Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia still has a flow of new projects. Its pretty much like the UK in the early 1990s - with Miller (now shut down), Scott, Nelson, Bruce, Foinaven, Schiehallion and Janice waiting in the wings. I don't think we have yet reached the point where the cupboard is bare in Saudi Arabia.

Similarly, on a global scale, if you take Skrbowski's mega-projects data base and build this upon a 4.5% decline, you get a future peak.

At ASPO 6, a number of speakers favoured 100 mmbpd in 2020. So a question for you. Does is matter if we have peak now, peak in 2011 or peak in 2020?

And a final comment (aimed as much at the eds as at you). Saudi and Global production has been debated exhaustively here on TOD. I'd like to see all posts cross reference as much earlier work as possible - either agreeing with it or refuting it - but at least trying to build upon what has gone before. Otherwise we are in danger of going round in circles:

Further articles on The Oil Drum about Saudi Arabia:

by Stuart Staniford

by Euan Mearns

by Heading Out

by Ace

Quick question Euan, 4.5% taking into account exportland and explicit supply constriction to sustain production - or 4.5% base?

My rough finger-in-the-air calculation suggest 8%+ post-peak decline rate, taking into account the practicalities. I also think the 'system breaks' point lies between 5-8%, so the precise shape is quite key.

Looking at the numbers presented above, there is no reason to expect a food crunch, given the low usage in %age terms of agriculture. However an economy crunch, one that we never pull ourselves out of IS on the cards.

I'm having trouble understanding how the last chart from Skrebowski was constructed. He seems to add a constant band of new supply each year from 2007 but here is no apparent decline within each band! If you add a decline after a few years of production plateau for each megaproject, it will result in a less higher production bump.

am I missing something?

am I missing something?

I've taken the mega-projects total times 1.2 to bulk up for lesser projects. Each band is then actaully declined by 4.5% per annum. I know it is not clearly visible - but trying to eyeball decline on these "dipping slices" is tricky.

Ok, maybe it's an optical effect. It would be interesting to make a separate chart with only the sum of the colored bands (i.e. new supply addition) before adding it to the historical production.

An eyeball estimate would roughly suggest that if the decline were 5.5 instead of 4.5 we would be at the plateau. I think the issue is our confidence in this number, and Skrebowski seems to have been scratching his head on this recently. I wonder how certain, with what error range, we are in estimating decline rates. Is this number really static? Will it increase through time as the largest fields expire and their loss is a larger proportion of the total? Or due to technology enabling high rates longer but leading to a more vigorous plunge? How do we account for all this?

Is the best model US with 2% decline (but including opening up vast resources in Alaska and GOM)? Or is it the decline rate seen in the N Sea or even Oman, which looks much worse. I don't propose an answer, and I don't think the answer is knowable at this point, only the fact of uncertainty sufficient to throw the date by several years. The best oil minds with full information have been consistently wrong in N Sea predictions (as Euan has shown) so how can we feel so sure about a place as central in importance as SA, when we know we don't even have the basic information pertaining to decline? High confidence is greatly misplaced in this situation.

Your comments about decline rates are spot on. Add 1% and we're in deep shit. Subtract 1% and the party will last a few more years. There is also the issue of project delays. I built delays into my Saudi forecast - but have taken Skrebowski's project time line at face value.

At some point some organisation that has access to the data will have to undertake a detailed study of decline. 4.5% is my geologists gut feel.

Of course it is impossible to forecast a base decline across the myriad of production practices today.

In general though, I think the simple exponential decline equation should also be remembered when discussing this subject.

Np= (qi-qf)*365/ Di

Where qi = Initial production BOPD
qf= Final production BOPD
Di= initial exponential decline rate, years
Np= cumulative oil produced

Simply stated, take the annual production divided by the decline rate to come up with predicted ultimate recovery.

Now take the myriad of reserve estimates out there and play the game. If there are 1 Billion barrels left, how much on any one day is proved developed producing (I would suggest about 70%).


I've calculated the global decline rate at 4% using Skrebowski's project schedule and EIA data (I also did this with Oil & Gas Journal's Pennwell data).

The IEA calculates the same overall global rate, with 4.6% for non-OPEC and 3.2% within OPEC (crude oil).

A recent oil field survey from CERA (private report) showed an overall 4.5% rate, but typically thought this didn't support the peak oil argument. I still have to sit down and really read the damn thing. The whole report is about decline rates.

Thanks for the nice Skrebowski graph. The issue is complicated by yearly delays, which account for a healthy percentage of projects. Depending on the OPEC scenario one chooses, we should get to about 87-88 million b/d in my own reference case. I still have to write all this up.

There is a much more comprehensive list of projects than Skrebowski has in a recent issue of Oil & Gas Journal. I don't have it in front of me, so contact me and I'll tell you how to get it. That's the database I use now.



I think that it also must include the percentage of wells that have switched over to horizontal, where after a more stable period declines, when they come, are more severe. I am beginning to suspect, however, that I have overestimated how many of these are really there and being used in the older fields in places such as the KSA.

Thanks for that Euan, I have also been told from reliable sources Kuwait is in a worse state of decline than the Saudi's

I think Ray Leonard of the Kuwait Energy Company might agree with you:


Colin Campbell, in his Aug 2007 newsletter page 7
says that "the balance of evidence begins to point at the lower numbers". Lower numbers refers to 19 Gb remaining oil for Kuwait, not even close to the 101.5 Gb proven reserves that BP statistics says. Remember that most of Kuwait's oil resides in the Burgan field which was discovered almost 70 years ago, in 1938. Productions started in about 1945, over 60 years ago.

Maybe after the UAE finishes its maintenance, shutting in 600 kbd in Nov 2007, Kuwait will follow with some of its own maintenance.

Ok we have:

  1. Mega Projects 2004 Report (PDF)
  2. Mega Projects 2005 Update Report (PDF)
  3. Mega Projects 2006 Report (PDF)

Will someone tell me the common theme in all of these so far? Where is our projected 88-89 mbpd? Further, a 4.5% decline rate is starting to sound positively conservative. In his own 2005 update, Skrebowski talks about decline rates as high as 6% and in the 2006 update (from Feb. 2007) I didn't even find a decline rate mentioned, as if that was becoming a scary thing to discuss. Further, the 2005 update was discussed here, courtesy of Heading Out.

You will have to excuse me if I take the Mega Project forecasts with a large grain of salt for the moment. 

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

GZ - I understand your scepticism here. I've done some history matching work (based on the links you give above) which I have not yet sent to Chris - but will do so very, very soon. I still think this is one of the best approaches - add new production on top of decline (that is uncertain).

Would you care to comment on my question:

Does is matter if we have peak now, peak in 2011 or peak in 2020?

It matters immensely, Euan. If peak is in 2020, we still have lead time available. If peak is already past we may be about to hit a brick wall at full speed. As you noted elsewhere, decline rate is the slippery key here but Skrebowski himself appears to be slowly sliding towards more and more pessimistic estimates of decline. Now I am not going to say that a peak in 2020 means we will be ok, because we still have to do something intelligent rather than sitting on our thumbs, but at least we'd have that chance whereas if we peaked in 2005 or 2006 then all that's left is the decline rate. Mitigation is off the table. Now it becomes a survival race - can we outrun the decline rates? As I noted in another thread here on TOD, there are interesting arguments both pro and con about that question but it is the only question left if we have already peaked.

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

I also agree that it matters a great deal, especially between 2006 and 2020. My long standing position of 2012±3 years is not IMO vastly different to your own.

One thing I am very wary about is Crying Wolf. Thus, for so long as new projects / capacity can be identified that are sufficient to meet annual decline I shall continue to argue for a future peak - up-dating my views as I go to accommoadte new insight on decline, project delays, political factors etc.

We are I believe entering a critical period. If demand stays strong for the next 6 months and production (C+C+NGL) does not rise - but starts to fall in the face of runaway prices then as I said before, we will be in a new ball game.

I would agree that supply is balanced on a knife edge.

However, the production profile for Saudi is beginning to look kind of interesting. Terminal decline seems to have gone on vacation for the time being:-)

The East Texas Field showed a secondary peak from about 1962 to 1972, contributing to the all time Texas peak in 1972, as overall production went from 2.5 mbpd in 1962 to 3.5 mbpd in 1972.

The question I have asked is how Skrebowski would have handled the East Texas Field, in doing an early 1970's Mega Projects update. In other words, I think that Chris is underweighting the underlying decline from the old large fields. With the virtual certainty that every field that has ever produced one mbpd or more of crude oil is now in decline, I just don't see any real possibility for rising production.

IMO, it's that simple. Peak Oil is the story of the rise and fall of the big fields. All we are doing on the downslope is slowing the rate of decline by finding and producing smaller fields.

If you then plug in the Export Land Model, the importing countries are effectively looking at a crash in oil supplies.

"If you then plug in the Export Land Model, the importing countries are effectively looking at a crash in oil supplies."

A friend of mine has a son who works for ExxonMobil in Australia managing an offshore rig. When he visited me recently I asked him about his son and whether he talked with management executives about peak oil. His response was a very excited one - " management are privately saying the world has effectively only 15 years supply left and Australia only 5 "
Here in New Zealand we import 87 + % of our liquid fuels. Exxon is to start drilling in the Great South Basin at the bottom of the South Island, a very hostile marine environment. The chances of a significant find is rated at about 5 % and any oil found could take 10 years to get ashore.
It's not looking good.

There is also this one:

Prices holding steady, despite massive planned capacity additions, Petroleum Review, April 2006

In there, he's talking about an obscure capacity erosion:

Capacity Erosion (2005-2010, mbpd):
1.2260 1.4000 1.6000 1.7500 1.8000 1.8500
Total New Capacity (2005-2010, mbpd):
2.576 3.385 3.740 3.206 3.950 3.270

It gives the following chart:

The 2005 prediction was pretty close but it diverges after.

In his last Update (Feb 2007) he's talking only about Total New Capacity which is even more optimistic for 2007-2010:

Total New Capacity (2005-2014, mbpd):
2.596 3.219 4.559 4.386 5.053 4.025 3.662 3.117 1.167 645

Skrebowski has embedded his excel model into the following powerpoint presentation dated 11June2007


First, save the powerpoint file to your hard drive, next open up file in normal view and double click slide 28 this will bring up the embedded excel spreadsheet.

An example of his method is shown by Saudi's AFK field. He has assigned 100 kbd capacity in 2006, 200 kbd - 2007 and 200 kbd - 2008. However, project delays have forced almost all capacity to 2008. Another example is Khursaniyah NGL 100 kbd in 2007, 100kbd - 2008 and 100 kbd - 2009. Project delays mean that there is no capacity in 2007 from Khursaniyah NGL.

Skrebowski's note at the bottom of slide 28 is interesting
"Pretty clear isn’t it IF all goes well, well perfectly we can muddle through to end 2010/early 2011. Any real setback and Peak comes forward."

A total liquids plateau of about 85/86 mbd to mid 2009 remains my forecast.

The setbacks and difficulties associated with increasing production rates are stated again in the IEA's 12 Sept 2007 Oil Market Report page 23 inset titled "Forecasting Through Interesting Times"

...despite an encouraging rise in 2005/2006 exploration activity by major companies, after a decade of decline, IOCs still struggle to replace oil production. But the nadir seems to have been 2004, when only 50% of production was replaced and this ratio has since risen.
access constraints remain a problem
With absolute levels, and disclosure, of reserves more opaque in the rising proportion of countries where NOCs dominate, global reserve trends may be less clear cut than suggested by the SEC filings of the IOCs alone. This only adds to the already urgent need for a comprehensive, standardised and transparent system of global reserve reporting.
tight labour, raw materials, drilling and service markets will persist into the next decade
typical global project cost inflation currently stands at 15-20% per year, with onshore and shallow water cost inflation potentially easing henceforward, but persisting for the deepwater
intense pressure on offshore service and maintenance capacity as companies face the need to replace ageing infrastructure. This is forcing companies to undertake more risky ‘off-season’ winter maintenance to ensure access to stretched service capacity
tightening access terms, ageing infrastructure, technologically more complex operations and availability constraints for the ‘nuts and bolts’ companies need to sustain or augment production – suggest that project delays and unscheduled outages from the existing production base could be with us for some time to come. To paraphrase, may we forecast in interesting times

This IEA report on Table 3 states that world oil production was 84.65 mbd for August 2007. The IEA's forecast demand from Table 2 for 4Q2007(Oct-Dec) is 87.80 mbd and for 1Q2008 (Jan-Mar) is 88.23 mbd (3.58 mbd more than Aug 2007!). If there is cold winter and this demand cannot be met then prices could easily exceed $US100/barrel.

hi euan

great chart, and history matching on skrebowski's work will also be very interesting.

we can already see for 2007 that the gain shown on your graph for this year will not be achieved. even if OPEC achieve +500kb/d in Nov/Dec, 2007 will be approximately flat within the resolution of your chart.

in a hypothetical world with no economic slump, similarly large project years in 2008/09 may just about hold this plateau, with some chance of making small annual gains.

far more likely perhaps is that demand will lead us down somewhat over the next couple of years, and when (if) the US economy recovers, we won't be able to regain the current production level. that's the scenario in my head at the moment.

i also think OPEC production stats for Nov/Dec are going to be very interesting.


Euan, I have read many of your posts over the years, (and couldn't possibly review them all tonight since I didn't get home til 9pm tonight). We agree, then that Ghawar is declining. That is a start. I don't agree that Saudi is like the UK in the early 90s. I am recalling these figures from memory because it is late, but in the late 80s, the UK produced 3 million per day from 200 fields. By the late 1990s, they were producing 3 million from 900 fields. There will never be a time when they are producing 3 million from 3500 fields--they would all be too small to make a profit off of (energetically speaking).

As is noted in the monthly update on production here on the OilDrum, The Saudis are no longer speaking about certain projects. I also know that the western part of their country is granitic shield (meaning no oil there). The Empty Quarter had many structures drilled back in the 1920s and 30s. There is an AAPG book on my shelf which discusses those dry holes. I don't think the Saudis have as much as they claim and as many believe. Their country is about the only one I know that can produce 3 billion per year and not have the reserves decline one bit. Wish I had a bank account like that.

I would also point you to my page on Ghawar, http://home.entouch.net/dmd/ghawar.htm
There is a picture of a reservoir model published by Aramco. There isn't much oil left in that part of Ghawar. I count about a billion barrels on that map and that map represents about 1/6th of Ghawar. That is consistent with what reservoir engineers who had worked for Aramco on Ghawar told me privately--that Ghawar's production would fall off the cliff by the end of this decade. They were in Saudi Arabia in the mid 90s and their models showed that then.

Euan wrote:
"Similarly, on a global scale, if you take Skrbowski's mega-projects data base and build this upon a 4.5% decline, you get a future peak."

That is a model. I am looking at past production, which is reality, not a model with associated assumptions. If I am wrong in calling peak oil, then I will be wrong. I have been wrong about many things in my life and won't be particularly embarrased. But, I believe what I see in the numbers on Black Crude. Given how far down we are from peak (1.3 million per day) and an underlying decline of 5 million bbl/day per year, that means to overcome that peak we must put on 6.3+ million bbl/d of new productive capacity. Thunderhorse, I believe will only produce something like 250 thousand per day, so we are talking in the neighborhood of 25 Thunderhorses. Where are these fields around the world? Having spent 37 years in the oil business, I have never found one single field that produces at 250,000 bbl/day. 50,000 is my record.

Euan wrote:
"At ASPO 6, a number of speakers favoured 100 mmbpd in 2020. So a question for you. Does is matter if we have peak now, peak in 2011 or peak in 2020?"

It matters a lot to me. I wouldn't be buying a farm if I thought that the peak were 2020. I would be 70 then and I wouldn't have to work as hard in my old age. So yes, it means a lot to me. I think back to that Shell chart shown at that UT res-sim forum I mentioned in my last message to you. if the natural decline will take the 80 million bbl/d of 2004 production and turn it into 40 million bbl/d of 2020 production, we would, therefore, need to put on 60 million bbl/d of new production capacity to get to 100 million bbl/d in 2020.

Lets put that in perspective. It took the world 150 years to put on 85 million bbl/d of production. We now have to put on 3/4 of that on line in the next 13 years. Does this sound reasonable to you? It doesn't to me. I know how hard it is to find oil. The groups I have managed and been associated with have found just shy of a billion barrels of oil. but that is over a 37 year career. Boomvang, Nansen, Gunnison, Merganser, Redhawk, Penn State, Tullich and a host of others were found by my groups. Their combined production won't do much towards that 2020 goal of 60 million new bbl/d of production.

I liked your comment about going round in circles. That is the human condition. We are all condembed like Sissyphus, to roll the stone uphill each day only to see it roll down hill.

Glenn - here's the picture for the UK

At first peak in 1985 they had 31 producing fields and at second peak 136 producing fields. By 1999, all of the giants were in an advanced state of decline, but since we had a larder full of decent new discoveries to develope we made a second peak. My production forecast for Saudi is based on Aramco's project schedule. Sure, there may be delays and some fields may underperform - but that has always been the case, everywhere.

I don't hold out much hope for new discoveries in Suadi - all the oil got trapped beneath the Arab D anhydrite and sits in Ghawar.

In the Ghawar posts by Stuart and I above you'll see a pretty thorough evaluation of Ghawar. Stuart and I came at the problem very differently but ended up with results for reserves that were very close to each other. I do agree that N Ghwar will tank this decade - the timing of that event is less certain. Joules Burn has done some good work on Google Earth charting new production well activity - and Aramco have drilled the hell out of Central Uthmaniyah this last while.

I don't think we need quite as much as 5 mmbpd new capacity each year. 4.5% of 84 is 3.8 mmbpd new capacity that is required - to stand still. Where are all these fields? Well I just lifted data off Skrebowski's summary - Grey zone posted links to his work.

I don't think our positions are actually vastly different. I have big trouble seeing production growing beyond 90 mmbpd - because the assests to produce this oil have not yet been identified for me. I am also warry of Crying Wolf (as I said to Grey Zone). Would you care to attach a probablity to your belief that we are past peak. I have said for a long time 2012±3 (and that's based on Khebab's loglets work) - and the more data I look at the more that time period looks realistic. If I make that 1 sigma - it gives me 15% chance of peak before 2009 and 15% chance of peak post 2015.

Buying a farm seems a good idea. I'm waiting for a deflationary phase to bring such a venture into my sites.

Al the best,


Euan writes:
"I don't think our positions are actually vastly different. I have big trouble seeing production growing beyond 90 mmbpd - because the assests to produce this oil have not yet been identified for me. I am also warry of Crying Wolf (as I said to Grey Zone). "

I would agree that our positions are effectively about what position this or that deck chair on the Titanic was in. Who cares if the peak is 2012 which you're suggesting? I would love it if you were correct and I was wrong. It would give me another few years to get a farm in working order for my family.

Given my experience in the UK, I would say that there is a 90% probability that we are past peak. I simply don't see any fields with a million bbl/d capacity coming online to replace the likes of Da Qing, Cantarell or Burgan. What I see are fields which at most will produce half a million bbl/d. The numbers don't add up.

Concerning the farm. I fear that equities will collapse before I can buy.



Have you looked back at Skrebowski's past projections versus how the projected products came on line? Would that tell us anything about the accuracy of the projections? The same question would apply to CERA's projections, but Chris's are probably a little more realistic and worth looking at.

"To sow corn at these densities by hand would require 42 hours (5 seconds per seed). This kind of puts into perspective the utility of energy for our tractors. If the price of oil goes up, there will be fewer bushels per acre because of the combined effects of less mechanization and less fertilizer."

It is highly probable that biodiesel will be produced at the very least in the quantities required for farming.

And why can't our tractors be electric?

(Couple of years ago the highest per acre yield of corn for the year came from a (large) organic farm.)

Edit - here you go.

Organic corn required 30% less energy to produce. No "oil" based fertilizer. Did better in drought conditions.


Electric motors also perform better under higher-torq situations. Since tractors don't need to do 0-70 in 6 seconds, they would do fine with electricity.

Bob, something like 60% of our electricity is generated via fossil fuel. There is at least a 33% loss of energy in that conversion from fossil energy to electricity. That means you are better off burning coal in your tractor than you are using electricity--at least 33% better.


Is it possible to generate electricity some way other than burning coal?

I sorta thought there was....

Sure there is. If you have about 4√ miles of farm land, you can rip up all the corn and replace it with Solar panels and farm photons. Then you can drive your electric tractor up and down the rows of solar panels.

Stj{acofoc wrote:
"Sure there is. If you have about 4√ miles of farm land, you can rip up all the corn and replace it with Solar panels and farm photons. Then you can drive your electric tractor up and down the rows of solar panels."

What a visual image !!!!! I laughed my head off. Now I gotta pick it up, if I can find it.


If you've managed to find that lost head and are still reading...

Spent any time on a farm? If you have you'll realize how much time tractors sit doing absolutely nothing. Making power in volume on site for tractor power makes little sense.

What would work is a big grid feed. Stick the juice in either ultra capacitors (very quick recharge rate) or 'battery packs' which would allow "pallets" of charged batteries to be swapped into equipment while outer packs charged.

And tractor usage typically occurs in nice sunny weather. (At least the places that I've farmed.)

(You seem to be a smart guy Bob. Can you think of possible solutions to the problems that you identify?)

Grew up in a rural area, am in the process of buying a farm now. While I don't claim to be a rural expert in that regard, I am not one who has spent his entire life in the city. If a Scottish farmer waited for the sun to shine before driving his tractor, he would starve to death. You may have spent more time on a farm than I, but I have probably seen more farms in varied environments than you. That picture I took of the dung on the house wall, was from a farm in Tibet that I visited. Do you know where the cows are kept in the winter in Austria? I do.

I appreciate the compliment about smart. I have said before that when I was Dir. of Technology, I went through all possible solutions to running out of oil that we could think of. I didn't find one that would entirely suffice. Remember several things play on any of these 'easy' solutions that people talk about. Rare-earth ores which we mine are increasingly becoming poorer and poorer in quality. An iron ore with 20% iron requires the processing of 4 units of non-iron to every unit of iron. But when that plays out, and one gets to the 10% iron ore, one must move 9 units of non-iron to every unite of iron. Clearly this is more energy intensive. A halving of the quality more than doubles the energy required. And when one gets to a 5% ore, one must move 19 units of non-iron for every unit of iron. And a 1% ore requires moving 99 units of non-iron for every unit of iron. You can run these kinds of numbers on every suite of ores in the world. It is always the richest and closest to market ore veins that are exploited first.

Under these circumstances, the energy use required to maintain the current level of iron use must rise exponentially.

Many 'solutions' ignore the fact that geologically the world has mined out the best and highest quality ores for every single element. We are not working on 2nd and 3rd tier ores. I would refer you to a sequal to The Limits to Growth. This book is Beyond the Limits, by Meados, Meadows and Randers. They show the effect of ore quality deterioration.

I also have met with high government officials in many countries. I think I know how they will react in order to
maintain their power. When energy gets too costly and starts affecting the economy, they will use force to ensure that they are the ones who have the energy This aspect of the problem almost never comes up in the suggested 'solutions'. These 'solutions' always assume that everyone will act rationally. They won't; I can assure you of that.


Bob, you seem to have a lot of good information about energy and materials that I don't have. I visit this site to learn. I don't have a lot of information to share (outside my personal experiences with living off the grid, gardening and another thing or two).

But I'm put off by the defeatist attitude that I seem to detect in you. Now, I might be entirely wrong about you. That's just my opinion to date. But my opinion is telling me not to rely on the information coming from you. It might be poisoned with negativity.

So, let's go back to the Scottish farmer. In my previous post I suggested that point generation of power on a farm for tractor use might not be the best way to provide power. Tractor use if quite intermittent.

You responded with a "won't work" bit. Of course one is not going to rely on PV in heavily clouded conditions to generate power for the grid. (Because of that Scotland is one of the places working on wave generation.)

What purpose did your post serve except to throw sand into the gear box?

If you had a question as to how a farmer living in a non-PV optimal location would deal, why not raise the question? Wouldn't that be more useful than just torpedoing the conservatin?

Bob, solutions which won't work, shouldn't be pursued. Such solutions become a waste of effort. For instance, the hydrogen economy will be unlikely to happen unless we make plankton capable of giving off hydrogen (and then what happens environmentally if they get loose in the world's oceans, which they will.) But the world is chasing the hydrogen dream when hydrogen as a system is merely a carrier of energy, not a primary energy. To make hydrogen loses a portion of the energy that could have otherwise gone to useful work.

Now back to your PV tractor. Yes, it will work wonders in Arizona. But that doesn't mean it is suitable for Scotland. To state as a matter of fact, as you did, that farmers plow only when the sun shines shows that you don't have enough information to formulate a workable worldwide plan.

You raise wave generation of energy. Clearly you haven't seen the waves in the North Sea. I have. I have stood on the shore of the North sea, where the water is shallow and seen 10 m waves coming ashore. Experiments with wave generation work really well until the first big 100 mph storm comes along and rips the generators out of the ocean bottom! That was what happened when I was living there.

Sorry to throw more sand. If all you want is for me to proclaim how grand your ideas are, here it is. Bob, your ideas are grand!


Why is it highly probable? Will it be by government decree that farming gets first priority?
If it is by government decree, then who would own the crop?
Who would distribute it?

During World War Two, farmers got first priority for fuel. They got ration books that got them more of it at the pump, and for the most part it worked, with the usual allowances for black market activity.

This is one of the reasons I am not a doomer. It is true that we are farming oil into food, but only a small portion of our oil use goes into that activity, leaving us lots of leeway in the rest of our activities to cut down without touching farmers.

And if we do have to lean on the farmers to conserve, yess, electric tractors work. They can even be rail mounted for more efficiency. (Very light rails, that is)

There was a cause to fight for then.
Will the government act before people are going hungry, before there are fights at the supermarkets and gas stations?
If the government acts before people understand a need, that will cause riots.
When shortages begin to appear people will hoard, you will, I will, everyone will try.
Hoarding will lead to chaos, as soon as stocks arrive people will queue and buy as much as possible, that will lead to rationing which will lead to black markets and the end.
Can you show me why it won't happen like that?

A funny thing about farmers is that to cause them trouble, you have to reach their farms.

Once most people don't have the gasoline with which to reach farms and cause havoc (a major problem right now), farmers will be left alone to do what needs doing, with the resources they need.

Some water deals are currently set to give farmers low priority for water as compared to cities once scarcity crosses a certain level.

You miss the fact that while we might be running out of energy (or at least cheap energy) we have advanced in knowledge. I admit you can't eat knowledge but knowing how to design a fuel efficient house means you need less energy to heat and cool it. Knowing how to manage and conserve soil means you need less fuel and fertiliser. Electrically driven tractors are doable and once the price of solar electric beats the price of oil/ICE they will be produced - or converted from existing.

A most excellent and convincing argument for having surpassed the peak in oil extraction.

I could not agree more that were are living in momentous times, unique in all human experience. Which, for me, means a unique opportunity for humanity to learn some most valuable lessons. I could not hope to list them all but some are;

An economic system dependant on growth in the face of finite resources is a law that no amount of technology will solve. It’s the false concept that growth is a paramount value that is the problem.

Democracy, capitalism, and freedom are concepts admirable for the human race but just as subject to decline as natural resources in the absence of a commitment to values greater than oneself.

We imagine ourselves the ‘modern’ ones, as they did at the end of the 19th century. We have failed to grasp that almost free energy has given us enough rope to hang ourselves. Without a concomitant advance in our understanding and commitment to higher values we’ve really built nothing of lasting value.

Hubris will gain an entirely new level of meaning.

Solutions, while everywhere, will not be implemented to stave off a world wide collapse. Solutions, as Eric Sevareid, famously postulated, are the chief cause of problems. Example, helicopter ben’s solution to the credit bubble caused by excess credit is even more of the same. They may even pull this one off. It’s the next one, coming ever faster than the last; that now has the potential to kill us all.

The level of delusional thinking required to maintain the fantasy of our present civilization will lead to actions future generations will regard as lunacy. We’ll be fortunate to escape the present zeitgeist without a nuclear exchange.

Human potential, relying exclusively on human will, has, along with resource use, PEAKED. Ray Kurzweil believes we’ll partner with silicon to reach “singularity,” a classic example of hubris of monumental proportions. Would you rather partner with the human mind or the infinite?

Our understanding of the nature and cause of problems is in for a radical shift. Problems arise not to be solved, but to remind us that we’ve failed to grasp the reality of our common origins.

You see, we don’t have an energy “problem,” we have an opportunity to redefine our human existence.

I've got 1.2 kW of PV sitting in my yard right now. Those panels provide most of my electricity during the year. They were a bit expensive up front, but very cheap post the initial bill. (And not a hard decision as would have cost $300,000+ to hook up to the grid where I live.)

I'm "post oil peak" in terms of household electricity. And I can assure you that my lifestyle is not significantly different than it was when I lived "connected".

We will change the source of our "power" from solar stored in dead dinos to solar more directly from the source. But our world won't end.

You'd be right, if everyone could afford to do what you have done.

My entire setup cost me around $10k.

About what one would pay for a modest used car.

And I have no monthly electric bill. (A bit for backup diesel in the winter and I need to replace the batteries every few years.)

Can you describe your set-up in detail? How much square footage do you cool/heat, etc. In what area of the country? Did you do the labor yourself? Please provide more info.

I live in the Pacific Northwest, in the mountains of Northern California where I get four seasons, a significant amount of snow. (But not like Kalamazoo, where I once lived. ;o)

I heat with wood, use propane for cooking and water heating. I have friends who cook with wood and others who heat their water with solar and/or wood, but the price of propane hasn't sent me in those directions. Yet.

No real cooling needs. Good house design and construction. A couple of fans for when it gets really hot, plus cool woods and a pond to jump into on hot afternoons.

About 100 square feet of panels. If they were on the roof they would take well under 1/4th of my south facing roof space. (But I like them better on the ground - cleaning and seasonal adjustments.)

Batteries take about eight square feet of floor space and the inverter, etc. live on the wall above. Nothing significant here.


Installed stuff myself. It ain't rocket science. (Getting the panels off the roof makes it simpler.) If you can read a basic 'how to' book and follow directions, then you too could do the installation. It's largely "hook this wire from here to here"-type stuff.

OK Bob, so your a guy who's done OK for himself, and ended up with a nice place on a beautiful ridge in the mountains of Northern California, with a nice PV system, and you're real optimistic about the future. Congratulations. I hope you realize this is not going to be a solution that many can follow.

I heat with wood as well. About this time of year I'm struggling to find the time to finish up the gathering and splitting (and yes stacking) before winter sets in, while I should be building the storm windows I need, and I've had to put off the sun-porch and the wood fired cook stove with hot water heater that I've wanted for yet another year. Oh yeah, and there are the kids, and that job thing too (a bit tenuous these days). You get the picture. When I start the garden for real next year, there will be even less time available, and likely no more money. And I consider myself very lucky to have what I do.

The point is, there are a hell of a lot of people that are not going to be dropping $10k on a PV system, they'll be lucky to do basic maintenance on the home they've got, if they can even afford to keep it. Beyond that, hang around and follow the discussions here for a while, and you may find that there are good reasons for some of the less optimistic viewpoints that some of us have.

I'm not suggesting that setting up their own power company is a solution for many, even most, people. I'm simply saying that solar is "here" at a not-outlandish cost.

Economies of scale can bring the cost down further and a system of PV panels and lead acid batteries is not the 'one size fits all' solution. Wind, solar, and storage prices are dropping as fossil fuels increase in price.

If we had to get off the oil teat in a hurry we could supply ourselves with an adequate amount of electricity with the technology we have today.

Sure, it would take a WWII Liberty ship type effort, but we're capable.

I have almost the same set-up, but I am on the grid. 7 x 200W panels, ground mounted. I produce about 50 KW more in a year than I use. $9000 after rebates and credits. Heat with wood, cool with nothing. Live in the Coast Range in Mendocino Co,Cal.

How much do figure you're saving per month/year by not having to purchase power from the grid? How much are you getting back for the sale of your extra 50kW?

$9,000 financed over 10 years at 8% would mean payments of a bit over $100. Unless my pre-coffee math has failed me....

Nothing back. PGE gets it for free. Didn't mean to give them even that much corporate welfare. If the situation ever changes, I'll get a time-of-use meter. Peak hours (?1000-1800) get charged, or reimbursed at 3x the off-peak hours. I pay about $4.50/month to be plugged into the grid.
There is a charge for totally disconnecting.
I have 2 neigbors who were in your situation; cost more to hook into the grid than to set up solar.
I can't recall the numbers off the top of my head, but I was figuring a 5-6 year payback. Was gonna be four when I started the process, but panels were in short supply, and their price jumped way up ( while I was waiting for the federal tax credit to kick in, and the rains to stop).
I have cut back on my use. I got a bit fanatical when I started watching the wheel go backwards :>)

Does that 10K include the house in the country?

My grid-tied setup rated at 2500 kW cost around $19,000, of which I recovered over 9,000 in rebates & credits. Before you choke, let me say I drive a 1991 civic that's getting 44 mpg and has been paid off for years. Coworkers in my clinic, most getting paid less than I am, are universally driving cars that cost from &10,000 - 20,000 more than mine. They are also paying far more monthly for gas & insurance. Additionally my PV is actually paying me back, so my cost is being offset, while theirs is just lost.

Look at every large SUV, huge TV and many other excessive consumer items and vacations ppl are taking (we camp). You realize many, many could afford the PV. Of course not all. But for many it is simply priorities.

$300,000.00!? !? Where do you live, Siberia? Sounds a little steep to me.

Sounds like he lives far from the beaten path. A spot where perhaps one should NOT build a house. No electric bill - but what's the gasoline bill for transportation in and out of there?

Fourteen dollars per foot (quoted price a few years ago) x 4.5 miles x 5,280 feet per mile.

$332,640, if Open Office didn't let me down.

Phone would have cost me $8k - $10k. Don't bother with one. Email is just fine.

Satellite for ISP. Not cheap, but not all that expensive either....

Gasoline. I burn about six gallons per week. One trip to town is enough for me. And in the winter I cut back to once every 10-14 days.

Should I have built a house here? That's a hard call.

I didn't take any land out of production. I did take about a quarter acre of my 60 away from the wildlife in order to fence off garden and orchard space (and the house footprint). I put in a pond where the beasties can drink without having to go so far, so they might consider it a wash.

I've been thinning once-logged forest land to get the fuel load down and generate larger, more valuable timber a few decades down the road. Thinning will reduce the likelihood of a catastrophic fire and will hopefully reduce beetle damage to the Doug firs.

I did put myself on the top of a ridge where I can see the sun rise over Southfork Mountain, the longest ridge in North America, and set over the "Lost Coast" and Pacific.

I think I should have built here. ;o)

"orchard space"

"I did put myself on the top of a ridge where I can see the sun rise over Southfork Mountain, the longest ridge in North America, and set over the "Lost Coast" and Pacific.

I think I should have built here. ;o)"

Just keep rubbing in the salt Bob.

So what's in your orchard? I got my Dad to plant two Cox's Orange Pippens Apple trees in his yard last year but both died during the winter.


My Queen Anne's Cox (close relative to the Cox Orange) has a nice crop this year. Would have had more but the foxes got about half.

Five other apples, all chosen for taste and storage ability. My neighbor's have stored apples well into May by just putting them in boxes on their porch and culling out any bad ones every couple of weeks.

Two plums, three peaches, quince, three kinds of raspberries, three kinds of blackberries, six blueberries, a jostaberry, a buffalo berry, wild strawberries, four current bushes, three elderberries, three high bush cranberries, rhubarb, and probably something that I forgot.

Figs and olives are in the "Mediterranean garden". Grapes will go there next spring. Not sure I'll get figs or olives, but I'm going to give it a try.

That said, I've raised significant amounts of fruits and veggies in a typical California suburban yard space. And good salads hydroponically on an apartment balcony.

Landscape with stuff you can eat.


You are doing what I am shocked a lot of people who seem to truly believe in peak oil are not doing: spending what is necessary to provide for the future. The wonderful thing is that you are living what many look to as an idyllic lifestyle but at a very low energy usage. I put in 3.2 kW of PV and don't supply my usage (I originally wrote 'needs' but decided that was inaccurate) even though I put compact flourescents throughout the house. Getting by on 1.2 kW is impressive.

I am building toward a horse-based sustainability. I use a tractor now to try to get infrastructure built but am getting draft horses (and horse-drawn equipment) to actually produce crops (primary income crops are beef (grass-fed angus/devon crosses), wool (again, grass-fed) and maple syrup (wood-fired arch). So all of the money/barter crops will be sustainable. Most of the non-cash crops are like yours and simply for my own food production.


I don't watch TV. That's a big energy saver. (Right now I'm typing this in a motel room that does have a TV. And I'm being reminded why I don't watch TV as my "most significant other flips through the chanels. ;o)

I do use only CFLs (with one LCD nite lite when I have guests). One light per person is the rule. It's just a matter of turning off the light when leaving the room.

I bought an off the floor Kenmore refer that was Energy Star rated. I use a "solar dryer". Even during the winter there is a dry day now and then when clothes can be hung outside and brought in a night to 'finish off'.

I found that "boom boxes" are very efficient sources of news/music. They are so low that I leave 2-3 on during most of the time that I'm awake.

I am brutal when it comes to phantom loads. All "instant on" stuff is on a plug strip or dedicated switched outlet. I've got no cordless vacuum cleaners, etc. that stay plugged in 24/7. GFI outlets are generally "tested" off.

I bought an efficient submersible pump for the well. It's even got 'soft start' which minimizes the switch on surge.

I dumped my CRT monitor for a nice LCD one some time back. Now I've replaced my ~100 watt with a ~15 watt laptop. The 20" LCD (which pulls 35 watts) goes back on while photo editing.

Most valuable tool? Kill-A-Watt. About $20. Plug it in, plug your whatever into it. Gives you an instant readout of power pulled and accumulates power usage over time. Let's you see your refrigerator actually pulls over a week/month.

Sounds real nice, a personal slice of "god's country".

Welcome, Bob. As a matter of fact, this is my first post, although I've been a lurker here for a couple of years on a daily basis. I'm replying because we also have an off-grid cabin in the mountains, at 4,000 ft., that sees the sun rise over South Fork Mountain and set over Cooskie Mountain/Kings range to the west, most likely with a couple of miles of your place. We actually live 300 miles eastward, but spend a week or so nearly each month over there. Good to see another "Oildrum fan" from that country.

I'm on top of Larabee Buttes. About four miles off Highway 36, halfway between Bridgeville and Dinsmore.

Where's your place?

This isn't meant to sound harsh and it's not directed at any specific individual around here, and certainly not Bob.

I get slightly uneasy about all this rugged, individualist, survivalist, stuff. How the individual prepares for a post peak society or how to survive global warming. On one level I can see the attraction and the logig behind it, on another level I think, unfortunately, it's delusional and maybe even dangerous.

This kind of stuff has a long ideological history. One could go back to Robison Crusoe, who proved that an english gentleman given his innate abilities could re-create and sustain himself even if providence re-located him outside of civilization for a while.

How accurate and sustainable this ideology is, is debatable. Perhaps it only applies to a tiny, very privilidged, minority of rugged individuals like Robinson Crusoe, perhaps it's only to be found in fiction or the imagination of individuals who have convinced themselves that they can sustain themselves outside of society, but for how long?

Unfortunately, I believe one would actually be better off, in the long run and increase ones longterm chances of surviving, by investing ones time and energy inside society and working actively to sustain and reform it, rather than trying to prepare and mitigate the worst effects of a potential collapse. It's probably not as romantic as creating ones own 'island' outside, but it's as much, if not more, of a challange; and what the vast majority of are going to be doing anyway.

Let's assume for one moment that someone has done far more homework than you. And that this someone has looked at multiple issues, not just peak oil. And in evaluating these issues has looked at many sciences. And finally, let's assume that this someone has concluded that the overwhelming odds favor total collapse of the existing civilization.

Please explain why someone who has done such an analysis and reached such a conclusion (whether you agree with that conclusion or not) should then invest himself in saving what that person believes cannot be saved anyway. Note: I am not suggesting that this person is correct, just that they have reached a conclusion. Having reached a conclusion, why should they follow advice that is completely counter to that conclusion? In other words, let's say that person has concluded that the ship is sinking and their best option is to head for the lifeboats. Why should they stay and bail water with you? Just because you say so? Or is there a better reason?

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

Bob W., our place is on the NW shoulder of Buck Mountain. Farther apart than I was guessing, but not really, as the crow flies. I'd enjoy visiting your place sometime, as I'm really interested in how folks do their electrical set-ups. At our main homestead here in the desert, we have 620 watts of PV plus an Air-X windmill, with 2 battery banks that we alternate(8 L-16s in one, 12 golf cart batteries in the other--this is cuz we're transitioning to the newer L-16s while finishing off the older t-105s). System is 24 volts, routed thru a Xantrex DR1524 inverter for all uses, including well pump. Just getting started at the mountain cabin, hence the frequent trips, havng owned the place for just a bit more than a year.

Hi Dunewalker,

I'll bet I look out my back window at your place on Buck. I can see a couple of places up there on the west slope.

Drop me a message at bobtrips at yahoo dot com and I'll get back to you with my 'real' email address.

I'm interested in how the AirX is doing for you. I need another source for winter power as the price of diesel climbs.

You see, we don’t have an energy “problem,” we have an opportunity to redefine our human existence.

As I noted over on Drumbeat, IMO the key questions that we need to ask are the following (from "American Anthem"):

What shall be our legacy? What will our children say?

Specifically, how should we use our remaining fossil fuel resources?

IMO, Alan Drake has the best answer to the question:

Electrification of Transportation

Streetcars 100 Years Ago

I agree wholeheartedly, and would add that we need to redefine our cities to increase pedestrian and bicycling, connecting satellite cities with rail.


The emphasis on coal was a bit too overdone in this article; it would take too long to change our infrastructure over to CTL, regardless. And like other commenters, I see vast opportunities for wind, solar, and other renewables for electricity generation, so that my 'children don't freeze' (I live in a passive solar, PV-powered house, btw).

The issue with those proposals is that they are a wealth transfer scheme as much as a technological solution, where the people that contribute the least benefit the most.

They are building one of those electric urban rail things here and it is a huge never ending boondoggle even before it starts to operate. The only people that benefit in the end are those politically connected that have access to the routes before the decisions are announced.

While I fully believe the technical aspects of resource depletion, IMO any and all solutions should be developed without tax subsidies and in the private market. If the solution can't be sold then it is either too expensive or not good enough.

Some of the less corrupt countries in Europe have a better chance with central planning, but it is comparing apples and oranges.

The "opportunity" thing makes me cringe - I've just had too many management types who loved to tell how everything was an opportunity. Sometimes we are faced with an "insurmountable opportunity". Maybe some of us will have the opportunity to help reduce the human population load on the planet.

prophecies have a way of coming true

we don't need oil or coal or natural gas to live a modern lifestyle. we just don't have the political and economic will to make it happen. if world governments (the big ones) said on Jan. 1 2009 no one can burn coal we would quit and guess what "suddenly" new technologies and new ways to do things would pop up. if they said no oil the next year it would happen. we WOULD NOT be burning dung in a crude stove. that is just dumb. the internal combustion engine is obsolete. get over it. come visit us at www.censys.org

I hope you have some asbestos in your wardrobe.

I'm sympathetic to your cause, and I understand that huge amounts of energy fall on the Earth every day. Perhaps if we had never started with fossil fuels we would never have gotten to where we are, and would have a world that worked on the daily supply of energy rather than the stored fossil energy. But we did. Now we have more people than we can feed without, and many decades of infrastructure wholly dependent on fossil fuels. We do not have either the will and leadership, nor the money, nor the time now, to change this.

I also do not see how one replaces the NG based fertilizer. Beyond the fuel for farm equipment (which could be run from electricity if we replaced or heavily modified it), this fertilizer is the only thing powering the green revolution that keeps us all fed. How does one replace this with a wind turbine?

In short, I find your comments above completely naive. If we stopped burning FF tomorrow, we would not only stop living a modern lifestyle, many would stop living.

Excelent points, your thinking reminds me of a paper by Donella H. Meadows "Places to Intervene in a System". You can download it here if you like: http://challenge.bfi.org/reference/PlacesToIntervene.pdf

I have little doubt that we are at or near peak. For the USA the consequences should be more dramatic that for some others when one considers that we import over 60% of what we use and the those imports will bear much of the burden of the world's declining production.

I chuckled when I read that we must return to grandmother's house. Out here in the Missouri Ozarks, grandmothers' homes relied on shallow hand dug wells, springs, or streams. On one farm I once owned the old hand dug well was usually dry, except during spring rains. The 100 foot drilled well was no longer reliable for anything but minimal household use, so I replaced it with a 200 foot well that reached an underground aquifer. Without electricity, neither the 100 foot or 200 foot well would be usable. If you talk to the old timers around here, they will tell you that when they were young, there were springs all over the place; now many are dry as the ground water level has dropped. Now the groundwater will not even support the existing population, much less those who dream of relocating from cities and suburbs to localized sustainable communities. I suspect this is a problem nearly everywhere.

For those thinking of using wood for heat and cooking, I wonder if you have an idea of the work involved. Even with gasoline powered chain saws and pickup trucks it is a big effort to cut, split haul and stack a winter's supply. The alternatives are axes, hand saws, and carts. Then there is the 24 hour a day job to tend the fires and clean out the ash. I hope all you planning to do this are young, sturdy and well equipped with all the tools necessary for living in grandma's house.

That's a little extreme on the 'work for wood' stuff.

I heat with wood. Takes me an hour or so to cut a pickup load of wood - two hours gets it cut and thrown on the pile. (What's "stacking"?) About three loads gets me a cord.

Build your house tight and minimize the part you heat on very cold days and a couple cords will get one through around here.

Think six trips to the gym.

Maybe two gallons of gas per year.

Running the stove? Light a fire in the morning. Toss in a few hunks every few hours. Clean out the ash every couple of weeks. Going out to fill my wood buckets gets me out of the house and into the fresh air once a day or so.

It's not a solution if you live in a fifth floor walk up in Manhattan....


Water. For those who live with falling aquifers, it might be time to revisit the cistern. Store water during the rainy season and use it during the dry.

And - shouldn't we be doing something to recharge our aquifers? We seem to be shunting a lot of water directly to the ocean via our paved over and clean cut ground. Why not start some artificial 'wetlands'/sinks to stick some water away for future use?

>We seem to be shunting a lot of water directly to the ocean via our paved over and clean cut ground. Why not start some artificial 'wetlands'/sinks to stick some water away for future use?

We could if all those darn people living in the sub-burbs and ex-burbs were not living there. Or those pesky farmers using land to grow crops on. or how about all those millions living in cities depleting fresh water rivers that uses to help replenish the aquifiers.

What little water that reaches the oceans these days isn't potable by western standards as its poluted with hydrocarbons, fertializers, pesticides, and human hormones.

>Store water during the rainy season and use it during the dry.

OK for household use where rainfall is plentiful, but not feasible for large scale farm irrigation and in dry regions like Nevada, Arizonia, etc.

We could (and sometimes do) include "sinks" in our urban/suburban areas. One strategy is to excavate a low lying area, backfill with small rock/large gravel, and cover with some topsoil.

The remainder of the land is 'sculpted' so that extra rainfall runs to the sink rather than storm drains. If the system is correctly designed the water seeps into the gravel pit in a few hours, leaving the "playground"/greenspace available for normal use.

Some farmers are creating "sinks" along the edge of their fields. Dig a nice big trench and fill it with gravel. It can be used as the road when it isn't full of fresh rainfall. And it traps extra fertilizer, etc. before it gets to the steam.


Right now there are people living in the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona who store enough water underground to get them through the dry times. Cheap? Not really, but it is possible.

We used a cistern in Tennessee where I grew up. Water from the roof ran into gutters which was diverted into a charcoal/gravel box for "polishing". Worked for us. And a lot of other people around us.

Large scale agriculture in the desert? Not likely. But because it doesn't work in one situation does not mean that we shouldn't use it where it does work.

"It's not a solution if live in a fifth floor walk up in Manhattan ... "

For me, this comment sums up your attitude, which seems to be "I'm alright Jack." Where do you suppose people in the cities are going to get a regular supply of firewood? Not everyone's got 60 acres or so to play around with. Like most people around here (London) I've got a 10 metre x 5 metre garden which enables me to grow a few lettuce, carrots, etc. Hardly what you call self-sufficiency.

Sorry, that's not at all my attitude.

My 'attitude' is that we're facing the need to make some serious adjustments.

You're confusing the description of my lifestyle (which is pretty much an aside in this thread) with my opinion that we need to get busy and solve our upcoming problems rather than run around screaming "DOOM!!!" or sticking our heads in the sand.

I don't know how people in big cities will provide themselves with heat when oil gets expensive. I do know that they could start right now with tightening up their dwellings. That would both cut their energy bills and stretch our remaining oil supplies a bit longer.

Back in your grandmother's day, everyone had horses to help with the work. We don't have many horses now, and certainly not many trained for farm labor. The lack of animal labor will make the transition back very difficult (besides the huge water problems and wood problems you mention).

Gail, you bring up an excellent point. The animals need to be trained. I hadn't thought about that--wonder what else I am missing?


Perhaps water dowsing would be a good skill to pick up. I can't see water getting any easier to find. Although, I've heard that some reforesting projects have had luck in recovering water tables. (Can't find the link I thought I had, sorry.)

Goose, great article until the end, with the Green/environmentalist bashing and the false dilemma over coal usage.

I’m OK with using coal – if we do more to address CO2, and particulate pollutants. Many environmentalists will accept coal under such circumstances.

Failure to mention the many conservation actions we can take to lessen the need for electricity, coal-fired or otherwise, in an article of this length, was also not excusable to me.

And, I live in Texas. You oversimplify the situation. Part of Texas’ problem is something of which it used to boast, but doesn’t boast now — having its own electric grid. Anybody could see that’s nothing to boast about. Nor is it helpful to connect to the Mexican grid; the eventual idea of, exactly the opposite of California, outsourcing Texas electric generation to polluting Mexico when much of that pollution blows back across the border, is highly inane.

I could not believe Mr. Morton's cavalier attitude towards reliance on coal. He must be a climate change denier. How are we supposed to afford Peak Oil mitigation under these possible near-future circumstances?

massive loss of urban shoreline property destroying trillions in capital and requiring reconstruction inland

massive loss of croplands from drought

massive loss of seafood from ocean acidification

significant loss of hydroelectric power from the destruction of glacial flows that feed many of the world's most important river systems

And finally the big one, methane feedback loops. We know that at some elevated temperature, large amounts of greenhouse gases will be released from the melting Siberian tundra, and at some higher temperature, methane hydrates will evaporate. We know that the latter has happened before. Maybe, just maybe, we can trigger the first problem without triggering the second. But if we burn all the coal we have left, we're committing suicide as surely as if JFK pushed the button in 1962.

If we don't tell ourselves that we're going to stop using all coal, we will actually continue using more and more, because it's cheap. Any enforcement is going to be sloppy, like China's one-child policy. So we have to attempt a far greater reduction in coal use than we will likely accomplish.

If our civilization collapses because it didn't burn coal, it might take generations for humans to rebuild back to 18th century levels. But the last time the methane hydrates exploded from the oceans, most life on earth was destroyed and ages passed before new lifeforms could evolve to repopulate it. Meaning, you won't have to worry about your descendants shivering in the dark.

I'll gamble on the 18th century instead, please.

Super390 wrote:

"I could not believe Mr. Morton's cavalier attitude towards reliance on coal. He must be a climate change denier. How are we supposed to afford Peak Oil mitigation under these possible near-future circumstances?"

You might want to read Morton's demon (do a google). It is about group think and with which I think you might be infected. One symptom is that one denigrates those with whom one disagrees. (climate change denier--I love it). That being the case, No, I don't deny that the earth is warming up. I think it will be good as we run out of fossil fuels with which to heat ourselves in the winter. A warmer earth will allow us to get by with less energy in the winter. having grown up without airconditioning in Oklahoma, we can go back to that--it is just miserable, but people handled it. Besides, most of the climate heating will occur in the northern latitudes.

I think climate change is happening, but I don't think it is the big problem that you do. I see energy loss as a much bigger worry.


Funny remark, considering that 3 quarters of the entire human population sits on the shores, and if runaway GW proves to be correct, as recent artic trends indicate, say bye bye to Florida, NY, and all the 3 quarters of the air-conditioners you won't use anymore.

Energy loss will, however, come first as a crisis. I think climate change will come in the middle of the long-term confusion that follows the former.

I am one of those people living in a county on the shore. I chose to live here. It is my risk and I am grown-up enough not to whine about other people doing something which I knew about before I moved here. It makes me mad to hear about people who build condo's on the beach, knowing full well that a hurricane will one day come by and then when the inevitable does happen, they want my money to fix their extremely avoidable problem! What ever happened to personal responsibility?

I used to live in Oklahoma. there were tornados there, lots of them. It was my responsibility to get home-owners or renters insurance. It was not the responsibility of my fellow citizens to bail me out if a tornado knocked down my house.

Everyone reads in the paper about sea-level rise and can make rational decisions if they want to. The ONLY people I have sympathy for are those indigenous peoples living on islands in the Pacific and the Bangladeshi farmers. urban people should be smart enough not to do stupid things.


I think climate change might be more of a worry than peak oil. It's happening so much faster than anyone expected.

Climate change means not just change, but increasing extremes and volatility. Unpredictable weather is a farmer's nightmare, whether an organic subsistence farmer or agribusiness in all its glory. Climate change may be a far greater threat to our food supply than peak oil. Even those with peak oil hideouts stocked with heirloom seeds won't be immune. Once ideal farmland may end up flooded or blighted by drought. And the carefully stored seeds may end up unsuited to the changed climate.

Leanan wrote:

"I think climate change might be more of a worry than peak oil. It's happening so much faster than anyone expected. "

And I think peak energy is going to be much faster than climate change. Did you see Laherre's chart on North American gas posted here? If one believes that graph, we have about 4 years until we have half the natural gas we do now.

Edited to add: Leanan, do you think there might be a reason that oil is at $83 per barrel right now? Could it be that the demand vs. supply is way out of line because of scarcity of the oil?

Time will tell which of us is correct. I sincerly hope it is you.


Oh, I think peak oil is soon, if it's not already in the rear-view mirror.

But I'm not convinced it will affect us immediately. The "demand destruction" is going on in the poorer countries. And even if TSHTF, I think we can expect even our dysfunctional government to be fairly reasonable and allocate what oil we have to agriculture. Even if they don't, we'll be able to cut back a lot if we eat less meat, and if we put more effort into growing our own food.

But not if the climate goes to heck. All bets are off then. It wasn't just the loss of oil that caused famine in North Korea. It was bad weather: flooding, and a tsunami that ruined some of their best cropland.

Leanan, I don't recall a tsunami destroying farmland in North Korea. When did this happen? Good cropland is usually not next to the sea.


The tsunami was in 1997, I believe.

From Amnesty International:

The impact of a fall in concessionary imports of fuel, fertilizers, technology and other strategic industrial inputs from the former Soviet Union and China was exacerbated by severe damage to domestic coal and hydroelectric power during floods in 1995 and 1996, a drought in 1996, and then a tsunami in 1997. This resulted in an energy crisis, and by 2001, "all forms of modern energy supplies (were) down by more than 50 percent compared with 1990, affecting all sectors of the economy, and especially transportation, industry and agriculture."

The flooding not only washed away topsoil, it damaged hydroelectric dams and flooded coal mines.

I strongly suspect that the tsunami is irrelevant to the problems faced by North Korea. Tsunamis rarely go more than a mile inland, and surely North Korea could have faired well even if losing one mile of a small region. It wasn't like the massive tsunami of the Indian Ocean two years ago, where we spent a couple of days to learn if my daughter-in-law's aunt, who lived on the shore in Melaka, Malaysia, was alive. She was.

I also find it strange that I can't find any account of this tsunami in a google news or web search. if this tsunami were huge and hurt the entire economy of a country one would think that South Korea and maybe even the part of China I worked would have experienced some of it.


In the winter, trips to the outhouse were cold (and brutally awakening if during the middle of the night).

As a resident of Carrington, ND from about 1944-47, before REI, I stayed several nights at farm with no electricity.

I was advised DO NOT USE MATCHES TO LIGHT COAL OIL LAMP in bedroom and shown a chamber pot under the bed.

But at that age I didn't need it.

Heating the farm house was a coal stove in the kitchen. Coal oil lamps provided light.

The kitchen was separated from the "parlor" by sliding doors.

A door separated the kitchen from stairs leading to upstairs bedrooms, presumably to keep heat in the kitchen.

I wonder if soon Americans will resort to installation of partitions in their homes to avoid heating infrequently used space during the heating season?

PNM is working at a 20 year future energy plan.


Let's see what happens.

Did they give you flint, steel, and cotton waste?

(I suspect they told you not to use matches because they didn't trust you.)

I've lived with "coal oil" light and an outhouse. In the 1990s. Actually I'll probably do a bit more of that this winter if I make it to Nepal to do some trekking.

I live with a partitioned off house now. I insulated my 20'x30' "great room" which contains kitchen and living room from the rest of the house. On really cold days I shut off the rest of the house and minimize wood use. Shortly before going to bed I open the upstairs bed room door and let it warm up a bit.

There's normally no reason to heat the guest suite or workroom on really cold days. Sit by the fire and look out at the snow. Cook some stew on the woodstove.

Works for me.

I wonder about the opposite side of the insulation thing also. I used to live and work in Atlanta, Ga. All of the newly built office buildings there and everywhere else are dependent on air conditioning. None of the windows are made to be opened and the offices are all arranged as though there will be air conditioning.
I also lived and worked for a while in Bangkok, Thailand and had an office in a newly built office tower. For economy the air conditioning was turned off during the weekend and you would have to pay ( a lot ) to have it running. I tried working some a few weekends and it was just not possible. The temperature quickly shoots up to really uncomfortable heights.

I buy the argument that we have found the peak, and the argument that things economical will change. But how will the economy change for major industrial projects? For example, the two nuclear plants that are recently proposed in Texas - will those ever actually get built? Who will be able to produce cost estimates that will be believed by bond buyers?

Nuclear produces electricity.

Solar and wind produce electricity.

The economy will decide which approach is the least expensive (in several senses of the word). Maybe the plants won't get built because of funding/NIMBY issues. Maybe the power needs will be severe enough to cause them to be built.

Either way, we will produce power for major industrial projects. Oil will keep getting more expensive. We will do less and less with oil as other energy sources become (relatively) less and less expensive.

Re: Glenn Morton’s article:

I found your article close to the mark until the end, where you insist that coal is the only way to prevent "freezing in the dark". Of course, that choice is not the only choice. You are ignoring the fact that solar thermal can be used to provide most or all of the heat required to maintain a comfortable temperature in winter and PV solar electricity can provide enough power for efficient lighting.

There's no question that this can be done, but it's not easy to do and the house which one builds to do this will not look like the typical McMansion with lots of angles and useless architectural nuances. To begin with, the house must be placed on the land to catch the sun. That requirement implies that the overall design begins at the initial development stage, when the land is subdivided and roads laid out. Then, the house must be very well insulated, something that grandma didn't have. My parents bought a house built in 1940 which had NO INSULATION in the walls and very large, single pane windows which began at floor level. It was originally heated with a coal furnace, which was replaced in the 1950's with an oil furnace. Even after some effort on my part to improve the insulation, we still burned about 550 gallons of oil before I replaced it with a 95% efficient NG furnace 15 years ago.

I've since built a solar heated house in the mountains. The walls have R-38 insulation and the roof has R-49. The design included an active southwall solar thermal system which covers about 540 ft^2, with large windows facing south for passive gain as well. For the other windows, I selected high efficiency, triple layer "heat mirror" windows. Last winter, I used about 150 gallons of propane (including gas for cooking) and I expect to do even better this year as more work is finished on the system. The house is so well insulated that there's been no need for A/C, in part due to the location. I use florescent lights and even with an electric hot water heater, my electric useage is less than about 300 kWhr per month and the bills run about $45 a month.

No, I would vote against using lots of coal until people are willing to learn about conservation and make the effort to change their energy consumption. Conservation does not mean "freezing in the dark".

And then you wrote:

How can economic growth continue if each day into the future we have less energy than we had the day before??? This is a historic moment in human history. For the first time in 10,000 years, we have less energy than we had yesterday. And that will continue into the foreseeable future.

For those of us who have thought about this situation for decades, this sums up your point of view as an industrial man. The very idea that economic growth (meaning, growing consumption of real commodities) can continue forever is an assumption which many environmentalist see as false. We live on a finite world and using today's knowledge of physics, this planet is likely to be the only one humans will ever find habitable. Our situation regarding energy supply and petroleum in particular is just one aspect (maybe the most important one) of life on a finite world. And, as pointed out in another post, the amount of energy available to us is massively larger than the fossil fuels we burn, but most of us have no clue about that fact. Human civilization has always been solar powered, as all of our food comes from plants. The massive amount of primary energy in the form of sunlight which is a necessary input to crop production is ignored in your discussion. Economic Growth tends to destroy acres, i.e., the solar collectors of agriculture. Our mechanized industrial farming practices tend to destroy topsoil and deplete water resources as well. That there is an ultimate limit to the available land area for crops means that economic growth will also be limited by the amount of food which can be produced, no matter now much energy in various forms is used to subsidize agriculture.

I suggest that all the problems you present have been clearly visible for decades. What we (in the U.S.) do not have is the leadership to solve them, because of our addiction to wealth and an economic system that ignores long term impacts for short term gain. But, hey, that's Capitalism, right? So, Capitalism is the problem and Capitalism is not likely to produce a solution until some large crisis forces basic changes. Maybe we are seeing such an event unfolding in the financial world, as the illusions of wealth based on marginal borrowing evaporate.

E. Swanson

Mr. Swanson wrote:
"I found your article close to the mark until the end, where you insist that coal is the only way to prevent "freezing in the dark". Of course, that choice is not the only choice. You are ignoring the fact that solar thermal can be used to provide most or all of the heat required to maintain a comfortable temperature in winter and PV solar electricity can provide enough power for efficient lighting. "

I am looking at total energy use. Most of us are not going to easily be able to rebuild our houses, given that the energy to ship all those necessary supplies around the world won't be there at cheap prices. Most people will have to live in the poorly built homes they have, unless of course, you have the money to rebuild ever house on earth.


Hi Glenn,

It's true that in the short term, most of us will continue to live in the structures which are already built. However, in the U.S., the lifetime of a typical house isn't that long, perhaps 50 to 75 years. That means that there are many structures which are at the end of their useful life and are going to be junked or renovated. After the Saudis flooded the world with oil in 1986, the price for oil has been so low that the average person has ignored energy conservation. I'm old enough to have seen structures built and used for a number of years, then torn down and replaced with another structure. Newer buildings erected since the 1970's have been built to standards which employ greater insulation and are thus more energy efficient. Those building codes are only minimum standards and we know now to do very much better with existing technology.

If the cost of energy to the consumer included all those hidden subsidies, such as the cost of the bloated U.S. military establishment which protects the oil supplies from around the world, we would have built much more efficient buildings over the past 20 years and would not have invested our money in the transportation system we now have. Your presumption apparently is that we must somehow continue to provide energy to the consumers at the same levels as in the recent past, when you write about "running the numbers". I look at the situation a bit differently, noting that the Saudi flooding of the oil market in 1986 led to a temporary interruption in the ongoing conversion to greater efficiency in energy use. The spike in consumption which began after 1986 (and repeated after 1998) was temporary and should not be seen as any prediction of the future demand, once we are past the peak in oil production and oil prices continue to climb and stay high. The consumers of the world will eventually get the message and respond with actions which continue the trend toward use of less energy at the end of the supply chain.

I remember in 1974-75 when one couldn't give away a Cadillac or a Corvette. This time, the "gas guzzlers" will be the SUV's and McMansions. I suspect we are already seeing this effect. If the ELM scenario comes to pass, we may even see a massive diversion of economic resources toward energy conservation, much as happened during the Great Depression, when the unemployment rate exceeded 25% and the CCC built many projects at government expense. The Europeans and the Japanese use about 1/2 the energy we in the U.S. use per capita. The U.S. consumer needs to go on an energy diet and high prices will force that to happen, like it or not.

E. Swanson

In the next forty years, most of the houses on earth would be rebuilt whatever the energy situation.

Building an energy-efficient house is not difficult or expensive. Here's a superinsulated strawbale house design that you can build yourself for under $10,000.


Note that the $10K budget includes an off-grid PV system, composting toilet, wood stove and solar hot water heater! The structure alone is budgeted at $3,450.

Not exactly unobtainable.

Not that many people would relish the idea of living in a small straw bale house (perhaps they might change their minds if they actually visited a nice one), but all should realize that something like this is our "safety net".

We don't need to crash to teh point of living in the woods and defending our stock of berries with sharp sticks.

If the worst of the oil predictions are true then we've got some serious work to do in redesigning our lifestyles so that we are less energy dependent.

Even if the worst isn't true, it still seems time to get busy on changing the way we live. At the very minimum we need to get much more efficient *and* more green.

Maybe in the not-so-distant future, people won't relish the idea of paying out 1/3 of their pretax income to the bank for thirty years.

It's a matter of priorities.

Bob Wallace wrote:
"Not that many people would relish the idea of living in a small straw bale house (perhaps they might change their minds if they actually visited a nice one), but all should realize that something like this is our "safety net"."

On my first business trip to China in 1994, I saw dwellings just like this. I have no doubt they aren't as nice as the ones you are speaking of, but the Chinese fishermen seemed to make do.

One thing one must realize about what I am saying. I do beleive that humanity will survive the problems caused by peak oil. I do beleive that there will be a huge die off. Without energy one can't plant 1.3 million wheat seeds per acre nor can one plant 30,000 corn seeds per acre to maintain the crop yields we have.


Your comment is right on the mark. The idea that we should burn the coal as fast as possible is eerily reminiscent of our attitude to oil. Why turn of the light or insulate if there is still something left to burn?
It sounds like your house is built to similar standards as the German Passivhaus. That these standards are not common practice is a pity.

Well, if it comes to a choice of burning coal or letting my grandchildren get sick in the cold winter, risking death, I chose coal. I think most humans would make the same choice, which is why we have the problem we do.


Russia is far from oil's peak
By F William Engdahl

This guy argues that the Russians have a completely different theory where oil comes from. The publications are in Russian and unknown to thew western world. According to Engdahl the Russians found oil in places where according to western theory no oil should be.
Can someone with knowledge of geology verify the difference in geology between western (including KSA) and Russian oil fields Engdahl claims? If the geology is really different the story might have some truth, otherwise the argument falls apart.
Abiotic oil deep out of the earth sounds very unlikely but not completely impossible to me.


Here is wikipedias review.


Most of the oil is easier to explain via the biotic theory. The oil companies use biotic information to find oil. The oil they find has biotic markers that are not just some deep bacteria.

The same article by Engdahl just popped up on 321Energy
and I share your views above......googling "abiotic oil" nets 19,000 sites with Richard Heinberg's writings in 2004 appearing numerous times. I remember coming across the topic a number of months back and dismissed it. Any TOD geophysicists on online this evening with an opinion? TIA


Of abiotic oil,

I am a geophysicist. I think one can explain natural gas abiotically, at least part of it, but oil? no way. It is nice to have wishful thinking but that won't save the day.


From the wilderness covered abiotic oil theory with a series of articles a few years back.


There is a part two and three.

Do a search in their search engine under abiotic oil for these articles and others.


someones keeping it up and running.

bottom line of the paper, its possible to create oil that way, though the earth is not capable of doing much more than perhaps some Natural gas, if I recall correctly. Other planets, different story.

If abiotic oil is true (I tend to think not, at least for petroleum), a key question is what is the ongoing planetary replacement rate? If planet earth produces any amount significantly lower than our daily consumption, then abiotic oil is of no consequence with our civilization structured as it currently is structured. Abiotic oil is only of interest if the flow rate matches or exceeds the demand rate because then you would be talking about an infinitely renewable resource (ignoring for a moment the deleterious effects of CO2 emissions).

Unfortunately, every estimate I have seen that applies abiotic oil to the planet and which uses accepted values for the age of planet earth, ends up requring the steady replacement rate to be so high that the entire planet would be awash in petroleum deeper than the deepest ocean if that replacement rate is to come anywhere close to our current consumption. So we are left with the inevitable conclusion that fossil fuel consumption still must decline. The only alternative that fits the abiotic oil scenario is if you believe in a "young earth" and therefore there has not been time for that much oil to be produced and overwhelm the planet. So belief in abiotic oil and in a replacement rate that matters requires that you be a young earth creationist too.

Sorry, but at that point you've gone down so many rabbit holes that you are no longer talking science and are firmly into the realm of faith. Other people may choose to believe in abiotic oil but to me it has all the stink of snake oil.

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

GreyZone, as usual, lays down the logic. It's all about rates, and abiotic oil, even if correct, which it isn't, wouldn't matter for a second. That's why anyone who considers this idea as something "interesting" is just a fool. Check the Asia Times article down-thread for an example of this.

Interesting paper, Glenn. I bet WestTexas will be happy to see some indirect references to the Export Land model.

WebHubble Telescope wrote:
"Interesting paper, Glenn. I bet WestTexas will be happy to see some indirect references to the Export Land model."

I think those export models scare the H out of me. We are being sqeezed not only from production decline but from export decline. In reality the only thing that matters is exported barrels, not produced barrels.


Now that you mention it, what makes some people happy, does in fact scare the crap out of others. For WestTexas it is better put as a professional satisfaction in getting his ideas out there. That makes it sound a bit more dispassionate.

I just had to comment... First... We will never go back to Granma's days...In less we follow the paid for policitians.
And the net energy still in the ground
FAR greater than the NET energy removed. The coal removed from the ground would produce 10 million times more energy by removing the uranium than burning it in a furnance.

ALL this website talks about is the DOOM of oil. Yes things are going to change...BIG TIME... BUT what about
nuclear??? BECOME EDUCATED!!! Enough power to last for around 10 MILLION
years!!! WITH REREFINING (which in NOW against the law in

the USA. All you hear of is a "nuclear accident" and how

DANGEROUS it is. BECOME educated about rerefining, what it
does to the fuel cycle and how it lessens the waste factor. At the same it you NEVER hear that coal mines kill more people by a factor of 100. And the "NOT IN MY BACKYARD" syndrome, that only goes by what you get paid. Any person who disagrees with thee stated above would certainly think different if they got a MILLION $$$ cash... And love it... And going to nuclear frees up all the world hydrocabons for fretilizer, plastics, etc. And it's almost CO2 neutual. And for the majority of transportation, GM built the EV1 and
EV2 electric car. If anyone can find anything neg
itive about this car please post. I believe the biggest
thing to positve change away from oil
is BOUGHT and paid for politians, the media and the world's
super wealthy. AND THEY KEEP IT THAT WAY!!! So the only real change we as common people can do it to VOTE and if they just don't make any sense for the coomo people is to just keep throwing them out of office.
France proved this.

How many nuclear plants are being built in the world at present?
How many are in future planning?
How long to build? When will they come on line.
Who is going to pay for them?
The bottom line is you are telling us it can happen. Do you believe it?

Questions not directed at me, and somewhat rhetorical, but I find the answers telling...

Caveat: I'm not a nuclear engineer nor do I work in the finance of nuke plants, these are figures I'm getting from literature:

How many nuclear plants are being built in the world at present?

Below 40 (some say 34) under construction.

How many are in future planning?

Under planning 81. Proposed 225.

However the lobbyist are saying that we will build 1000 in the next 50 years (I have no idea how, but that's what some are guesstimating).

How long to build? When will they come on line.

Assuming build capacity, workers, no oil decline (i.e. current conditions or better), about 5-7 years for a modern EPR plant, 10+ years if you include permits and the legal/financial background work.

Who is going to pay for them?

Very good question. I have no idea? The financiers who think that the time for an electricity revolution has come? Structured finance instruments?

Thank you.
Yes those under construction would be budgeted for, with luck they all will be completed.
The planned for stations are problematical as you point out, but you never know, if the economic situation remains viable they have a chance.
I see that's a lot of uranium that will be required.

Nuclear power is one of the cheapest ways of making electricity today. The main problems are waste, perceived safety and political opposition, and perhaps future uranium availability.

The prior poster is correct that recycling spent nuclear fuel, as is common throughout the world, is bizarrely illegal in the US, producing an artificial "nuclear waste" problem. Also, there is the possibility of breeder reactors, which process now-useless depleted uranium into usable nuclear fuel. This would overcome the problem of uranium availability to a large degree. It is a more expensive process, although that is less of a liability as the cost of alternatives (regular nuclear fuel and coal) rise. Also, there is a problem of weapons-usable nuclear matter being diverted.

Personally, I am not a fan of nuclear power for broad environmental reasons.

Easy, kid. You're not dealing with War of Warcraft n00bs in here. We are quite educated about that subject of yours, nuclear is an option, but it already is too late. Curiously, uranium has also a runaway commodity price tag. That's because our stocks of it are diminishing sharply. If a uranium revolution is at hands, we have problems. And I'm not talking about your 10 million year BS. Oil also had trillions of barrels in oil shales and tar sands. Right.

But I don't have the "power" to discuss this again. Search for "nuclear" in the site and good luck. There are very very interesting discussions back in time in TOD.

And quite educated in fact.

So, learn a little, educate yourself a bit more, read some more on this site, grow up and then confront the "doomers" again.

There's an interesting article in Asian Times on abiotic oil
The article claims that abiotic oil means that peak oil is a myth. My personal view is that the origin of oil has little to do with whether or not peak oil is a myth, though it may offer comfort to some as the price of oil and gas continue to rise and productions nevertheless continue to decline.

What an idiotic article. If this guy is having this much trouble thinking through these issues I can't imagine how fatuously garbled his thought-process is when it comes to the economic issues that his Wikipedia article purports him to be an expert in. Show me an expert and I'll show you a full of shit pathetic excuse for a self-altering neural network. "Intelligence." Pffffft. What a joke. Who came up with that one again?

I mean this kind of tripe shouldn't even be dignified with rationality. He's an idiot trying to sound like he has some semblance of an idea of the complex issues he clearly should not be looking into. From the look of it, he should be working in the food-court. Or at least send this fool to the gulag for half-assed intellectuals, since we're talking about "Russian science." Lysenko, hooray!

Pathetic. Not like I really care. I don't. Morons are a dime a dozen. (I should know, I am one.) This shit has been covered a million times on TOD (not to mention those corrupt American Geophysical journals!)

Comrades, that is all.

Thank you for the kind words, mr f. Care to go beyond mere ad hominems?


Those words weren't addressed to you. They were addressed to the pasted atimes URL. Capisce?

It's been linked to a few times and debunked atleast an equal number of times.

Abiogenic oil formation theory is by all scientific accounts, almost non-existent in volume or alternatively complete bogus.

At least that is what I get from reading the lit.

Tickle me Seismo - Thank you very much for your excellent article and thoughtful responses to the comments made here.

I wish I did not have to read what you wrote but sadly…

Ignorance is no longer an option for me.


This time, seriously, thank you for the kind words. When I first learned of peak oil back about 1998, I didn't sleep well for months. I finally figured out that I would do what I could. I invested heavily in oil so that I could earn enough money to buy a farm to leave for my family. That day is fast approaching, as I am trying right now to buy one.