ASPO Houston - a comment

I went to my usual Rotary Club meeting this morning, and one of my co-members asked where I was last week. “At a Peak Oil meeting in Houston,” I said. “What’s that?” this well-educated and generally well-informed lady asked me. To me this encapsulates the problem, not the problem we have, the problem that the general public has. They have no idea of either the size, or the immediacy of the problems that are now almost upon us. Debbie Cook and others this past week talked about the need to get administrative and legislative attention, but to tie it to some coming energy event. We talked with some dispassion about when this event might occur, and were encouraged to dream of some bucolic Houston, having survived the deluge. I don’t think that this is the way it is going to be.

It is the scale of the problem that defeats most imaginations, including mine. When we talk about the difference between the conservative estimate of oilwell depletion, say the 4% that Chris Skrebowski uses, this is 400,000 bd less per year than the 4.5% that the “optimistic” CERA has employed. The more modern wells are horizontal, and, when these start to water out, the decline in production has, in a number of places, already passed 10%. As the control of the majority of the world oil production has passed from the one-time Major Oil Companies, into the hands of National Oil Companies the investments to maintain and grow production are not being made and thus one can anticipate that decline rates will get worse, not better. Further the costs of doing business are getting higher, reducing the return on investment. One of the sponsors of the meeting, the World Oil magazine, had an article in their August issue questioning the potential return on investment for the current spate of wells being drilled in the Fayette Shale. And while this was partially rebutted in the current issue , the underlying point is increasingly becoming true. The energy and capital costs of development in the more marginal deposits that are the remaining reserve will not justify the cost of finding and exploiting them. No wonder that companies are buying back their own stock, instead of investing in other “opportunities.”

But where does that leave the world, and particularly those of us who have become accustomed to having the gas and fuel oil that we need, even though it is a bit more expensive? We are, as Congressman Bartlett’s aide said, the frog, still hopping around in the pot as the water is beginning to get uncomfortably warm. The heat will only get worse, prices are going to continue to rise, and those that think that the oil-supplying countries will, out of altruism, provide enough oil that we won’t have problems, need to stop smoking those funny-smelling cigarettes. It may well be that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the country with the possible potential to do so will increase flows next year to play a political game through the election period. But if it does, that is about all it is going to be likely able to do. It seems appropriate to remind you of a quote from Dickens' Mr Micawber that I have used before.
'My other piece of advice, Copperfield,' said Mr. Micawber, 'you know. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. The blossom is blighted, the leaf is withered, the god of day goes down upon the dreary scene, and - and in short you are for ever floored. As I am!'.

As are we all! Our oil “income,” will no longer meet our desired “oil expenditures.” The exact timing of this switch is about now. It may well be that the current price of oil will, for the future, appear quite cheap. The exact timing is, of course, difficult to predict, given geological, geographical and political influences, yet some of the reserve production that the KSA has lies in the Manifa field, and the refinery that this will flow to is not going to be ready until after 2009. With that and the output from the Khurais project Saudi Arabia may well be able to hold or slightly increase production through the end of the decade, and perhaps to as distant a time as 2011, but this will not offset the declining production that is occurring in too many other countries.

The realization that the world has otherwise run out of surplus production will not incline those that have the potential to increase production to do so. If, by merely restraining production to current levels, prices will continue to rise, as they will, where is the incentive to increase production? And further where is the incentive to restrain the internal growth of their own economies? This will further reduce the volumes available on the world market. China and India have growing economies, and the funds to purchase additional fuel, and so they will. In some cases they have already locked in future supplies, through a number of different approaches. And this will leave the world short of that needed by other customers. Oil will become less fungible. Spot market prices are going to become quite expensive, and long-term contracts can be abrogated.

Contemplating this coming scenario, the question only becomes when does this unfolding event reach the “panic” point that the general public takes notice. Until the public notices, I doubt that any voice that we raise will make much of a difference, so short a time do we have to create remedial activity. And once it hits, for many measures it will be too late.

The prevailing recommendation that increasingly became common as presentations continued was that there is no alternative to conservation. We must reduce demand, and this rationing will come about through price controls as, at least in the beginning, the market rules. But how long Governments can accept this, giving the increasing pain that this will impose on their citizens, is hard to estimate. We have already seen the well-connected cellulosic ethanol industry acquire funding and recognition that the state of the technology does not justify. The $87/ton harvesting, transportation, storage and processing costs that I quoted from the meeting in Dubuque are a factor that doesn’t even enter the economic balance that is used to justify the program. (I remember from a meeting last year hearing a proponent of the technology suggesting that “with a little investment agricultural engineers can get that cost down to $2 a ton”, the number they needed to have to pay, neglecting the maturity of the harvesting industry, and the efforts that have already made it as efficient as it is). We can therefore anticipate increased funding for those well connected, as the crisis unfolds, will it be wisely spent? It wasn’t in the beginning the last time around, and I doubt, in the beginning, that it will be this time either.

If I have a gripe about a conference that was well organized, provided us with good food, and a copious amount of information from reliable sources, it relates to the paper on biofuels. As you may have noted I have been to a number of ethanol related meetings over the past couple of years. The work that is being done by companies such as Monsanto in developing corn yields in excess of 300 bushel/acre suggests that the criticism of EROI figures is somewhat out of date, and that perhaps a more even evaluation of potential future yields might be a more useful presentation next year.

That, however, is a quibble. I am glad that I attended, though the message is unpalatable because there are incentives that will help in the future. The use of electricity in transport is an obvious example, and it is encouraging that there are some steps being taken to provide alternatives, late though they will be to the table. It would be nice to know that there are alternatives being pursued. Dave Rutledge talked about some of the work he knows about, later in the evening, and some of his numbers were encouraging. Perhaps we could be fed those little bits of hope to go with the grimness of the rest of the news.

But for now, thank you for reading, and for those that helped contribute the information that I forgot, missed or got wrong, thank you too. (And if you disagree with my assessment feel free to comment).

Let’s hope that the situation hasn’t got so bad that we can’t meet again, in California, next year. (And yes Debbie, I’m going, I’m going. I have already got two service club type presentations scheduled for as soon as I can change my notes to your recommended presentation style).

Regarding your presentations for secrvice clubs:
Are these items you would be willing to share with others, for use around the country and globe? I have a rudimentary version and speech, but it could be much, much better. It is more of a small group talk, but I would like to have almost a pre-packaged powerpoint with nifty graphics.

My plan is to put up a draft of the "hand-out" page for suggestions before I give the first one, though my talks tend to be very "picture oriented," and I don't do much with "nifty graphics" - more plots and tables. I also tailor them a little for the particular audience that I want to talk to, and what I hope that they specifically will get out of it - so I am not sure that they would be of great value for general use - but let me see how this evolves.

A year or so ago, I gave a presentation to the North Dallas Rotary Club on Peak Oil. I finished with the ELP stuff. I have previously described a conversation with a gentleman after the event. He (presumably jokingly) told me that while he agreed with my ELP recommendations, he was surprised that I had not been assassinated (presumably by some angry car dealer, realtor, etc.).

Very different response from the Rotarians here in San Francisco. I gave a peak oil talk to them, and the president ended up selling her car and starting taking the street cars to work afterward. Then they invited me back for a myths of biofuels talk as well. What amazed me was how fast they understood the implications of low EROI fuels on social and economic complexity. Nonetheless, for the bulk of them, I'm sure business as usual reemerged the next day.

Neighbors around the corner asked me how things went in Houston, and informed me that that they would sell one of their two cars (keep the other for hurricane evac, shopping and occasional needs) and both would take the streetcar to work as soon as the streetcars restarted on St. Charles.

A small straw in the wind but a positive one !

Best Hopes,


They are also installing a tankless gas water heater.

Until the public notices, I doubt that any voice that we raise will make much of a difference"

I still think it's important to be "in the know". To understand better the events around us. Whether ELP, speculating on the markets, investing in alternatives, planning for future superstructure/transportation -

Even if the Macroeconomics of the thing aren't changed a bit through personal efforts, "knowing" and following events in relation to PO will help each of us here navigate the rapids that are already being fealt under the canoo.

But I agree, any "efforts" we make will have about ZERO influence on the tide that is ebbing.

Cheers, Dom
Just remember the Golden Years, all you at the top!

And of course, who are you going to believe, the sourpuss Peak Oilers, or the oil industry leg of the "Iron Triangle," who are basically advising Americans to "Party On Dude!"

"Rather than a 'peak,' we should expect an 'undulating plateau' perhaps three or four decades from now."

Mr. Robert Esser
Senior Consultant and Director, Global Oil and Gas Resources
Cambridge Energy Research Associates
December 7, 2005

"Contrary to the theory, oil production shows no signs of a peak... Oil is a finite resource, but because it is so incredibly large, a peak will not occur this year, next year, or for decades to come"

ExxonMobil Advertisement in New York Times, June 2, 2006

We in Opec do not subscribe to the peak-oil theory.

Acting Secretary General of Opec, Mohammed Barkindo
July 11, 2006

We in Opec do not subscribe to the peak-oil theory.

Acting Secretary General of Opec, Mohammed Barkindo
July 11, 2006

But then a subscription isn't required, as we will all receive complimentary copies, free of charge.

Oops, I have to add a comment. Recently I talked with gentleman that sells "substrate catalysts" to the petroleum refining industry. He spends much time in Venezuela, Texas, Russia, etc). I mentioned that global oil production seems to have little excess reserve capacity and that it appeared that peak production is either here or nearly so. He seemed surprised and apparently had never given a thought to such a possibilty. And he's in the business.

I hope to continue this coversation with him at a later date.

He seemed surprised and apparently had never given a thought to such a possibilty. And he's in the business.

I've talked to two people who are in the industry about Peak Oil. A chemical engineer for Chevron said that peak oil was a plausible theory. Another guy I met who was an international oil deal broker, who had done a lot of oil contract negotiation in Russia said that we'll see more hybrids over the next 10 or so years and then things would start to get interesting after that.

So the ocean has gone way out, the fish are flopping around on the beach and some people are saying that something may be amiss. Only a few "lunatics" from the oil drum are running around screaming about heading for higher ground.

When people underestimate the scale of the peak oil problem I tell them that it is a civilizational scale problem and since it took us 100 years to get into this mess, it will probably take us a while to get out of it.

I'm glad to hear that there are some folks in the field that "get it". Too bad that our leadership seems so inattentive. I work in the medical racket and see first hand how effective public education and price rationing have been at decreasing the percentage of the public that smokes. As for PO, we will certainly get the price rationing component. Now pardon me while I investigate a dead fish:)

Recently, I came across, in my line of work, a gentleman who described himself as a geophysicist. I inquired what kind of work he did for his Canadian company and he stated "I find oil." Of course, I took the opportunity to ask him, briefly, about various topics...his answers were thus:
1. The world: has already peaked. Reasoning: "there are no more 'elephants' left."
2. Mexico: plenty left to find (we were clearly speaking of offshore).
3. Saudi Arabia: will never produce more than 10m/bpd. Reasoning: see "the world."
4. Canada: can produce at the contemporary level for 100+ years (but cannot increase production). Comment: "we're building nuclear" to replace natural gas to power it.

Dear Headingout,

Thanks for your sober assessment. I have a bit of trouble with 'sober' as tend to go dramatic, due to my line of work. There's an elegiac quality to your post which I find sympathetic, noble, and unfortunately, somewhat disturbing; not that it's your fault. It's just the realization of where we may be heading that dulls my natural optimism. We seem to be heading in the wrong direction at breakneck speed. Unless we're careful we'll squander precious resources on meaningless wars that will leave us in worse state than we were at the beginning. War as form of stupid suicide pact - ugh!

I have an uneasy feeling that by the time this whole story really breaks through into the public conciousness and becomes a real issue that's taken seriously; it may be too late to impliment effective remidial action. This is a pessimistic view, almost fatalistic, which doesn't help anyone. At times like these fatalism is curse.

On the other hand, it's not too late. I firmly believe this. However, I really think we have to frame the debate and challange of Peak Oil in a 'wartime' context. Not starting more armed conflicts, but rather, mobilizing the population for a great, active, national effort. That is, we have to put society on a footing similar to that that prevailed in the US during WW2 if we are going to stand a chance of tackling the challages we face. This of course implies a lot of sacrifice for the 'war effort', probably higher taxes to pay for necessary infra-structure projects and a move away from frivolous consumption or 'party capitalism' towards 'reform capitalism' where the vast resources of society are 'directed' towards longterm goals rather than rampant, frothy, consumerism. This is a much a cultural challange as anything else, and culture can change remarkably quickly in the right circumstances. However, it will require a standard of real, and imaginative, leadership which is currently in very short supply. Normally profound change in society requires decades to impliment and we don't have decades, which is why I personally am becoming an advocate for 'Revolution.'

Such a 'wartime' programme to deal with what will become a national emergency, is not utopia, it's perfectly attainable and has happened before. An American example is the New Deal. Capitalism wouldn't be completely overthrown, we haven't really got time to try anymore 'socialist' experiments with society or the economy, but we do need to direct and restrain the worst excesses of the market which have almost taken on a life of their own, and that was never meant to be. Surely we weren't meant to serve the interests of the market? The dogma is that it's supposed to be the other way around!

Even though I've stated that I think we need a 'revolution' this was mostly meant in the context of activating and organizing the masses to take back the streets, the political institutions and the country. I was talking about a political revolution which will lead to fundamental reform of the system along the lines I've mentioned above, rather than root and branch economic and social revolution. The risk is that a real revolution would simply muddy the waters and make thing even worse. Reform in time of virtual civil war might prove difficult. But we do need to divert substantial, lets say 90% of the current military budget, to purely civilian projects, this will be difficult to achieve. On the other hand it's difficult to think of anything more wasteful and useless than the current grossly inflated military budget. Diverting these resources to tackling our real problems could, potentially, work miracles.

I actually think I'm becoming a kind of revolutionary conservative, which seems like a bizarre contradiction. Only I really believe we have to 'conserve' what best in our society and change what has passed its usefulness. Let's keep market capitalism, but choose reform it, making it not just responsive to the consumer, but to the citizen as well. This of course implies a rejuvinated and redifined concept of citizenship.

But these kind of 'reforms' do mean going head to head with some very powerful vested interests who regard the current socio/economic model as non-negotiable and that business as usual can go on forever. We're currently in a situation that reminds me of pre-revolutionary France. The 'aristocracy' are increasingly becoming detached from the real world and the lifestyles of most citizens. Their isolation in a luxurious, dreamworld, in a kind of global palace of Versailles, is not only undermining their ability to rule effectively, it also makes them indifferent to the suffering of the 'peasants'. We need to begin the long march towards Versailles and force the aristocracy to engage and integrate once more with the rest of us, and the realities of the world, which despite their luxurious and privilidged lifestyles, they too are a part of. Change is in their objective interests too.

Business as usual will, I fear, lead to the destruction of 'business' and the rest of us along with it.

"I actually think I'm becoming a kind of revolutionary conservative, which seems like a bizarre contradiction."
Not really, revolution means change, right now we are not conserving our natural resources and we have to start doing so. See that is not so bizarre after all is it? We need a lot more revolutionary conservatives like yourself. BTW I'm a Liberal who will be with you in the trenches of this revolution. How would you feel about impeaching Bush and Cheney? ;-)

To extend the wartime notion, just imagine how much could be done with the money being squandered in Iraq (or, just on contractors in Iraq).

We could completely modernize our grid, build up a sizeable wind/solar capacity, fund lots of research and development into lightweight & electrified transport, modernize our railways to be the efficient backbone of most long-distance cargo hauling, etc, etc.

Leadership! That's what has been in steep decline in the US!

Hi jimvj,

Excellent point.

One thing - couldn't we start here? (I know I'm a couple of years behind...still...)

Make your list - the elements of a decent US energy policy. Start to recruit signatories, and...

It has to be doable. (Doesn't it?)

And another good named theory to go with these comments.

"Jeffery's Juxtaposition" (finally I found one for you-;))

1) peak (oil)discoveries
2) peak (oil)production
3) peak (oil)awareness

aka "Oh shit, We are running out of oil? How come no one warned me?"

Our paper on net exports was so grim that I insisted on finishing with a plug for Alan Drake's talk on Electrification Of Transportation.

I don't blame you. Alan's rail seems to be the only optimistic outlook that I have.

(Sorry about the terrible sense of humor.)

- "Jeffery's Juxtaposition"-
"By superimposing the curves of discoveries and production with awareness we can estimate when half of the population will realize that we have a problem"

Please note; that each peak follows the proceeding peak by roughly 40 years so we expect peak awareness to be around 2046.

If Khebab could just whip up some nice graph....


we appreciate your support...

For some reason, people have a really hard time accepting global warming. I think it is going to be much worse for peak oil. People will just refuse to believe it. High prices will be attributed to oil companies' greed. Shortages will be attributed to evil OPEC countries punishing the US (or whomeever is experiencing the shortages). For political and economic reasons, these attitudes will be fed by politicians, pundits, think tanks, and big corporations, some of whom are already involved in the AGW denial movement.

I see little reason to be optimistic. We have so little time and so far to go in changing peoples' attitudes.

First of all, many thanks Heading Out for your ASPO updates. It appears to have been a very fruitful event. You have definitely whetted my thirst for the DVDs.

Regarding assertions that The Peak has occurred and contentions that oil prices will only continue to rise henceforth, I would counsel great caution.


I know from my own local experience of "getting in people's faces" about Peak Oil that much public denial is rooted in cynicism about similar claims during the 1970's Oil Shocks. Some "experts" said then that the end of the oil age was at hand, but the price increases eventually spurred exploration and production. The end result was an oil glut, open season for suburban sprawl, and the genisis of the SUV. Most Americans who remember the '70's Oil Shocks remember two things: (1) the high prices were "cooked", and (2) Morning in America broke upon the horizon when oil prices plunged again. They don't want to be fooled again.

Will oil peak this century? No doubt. Will it peak before 2050? Very likely. Did conventional oil peak in 2005 or 2006? IT IS TOO EARLY TO TELL. And it is scientifically unsound AND damned foolish tactically to extrapolate from data points so close together.

Every time a peaker pokes a stake in the data and claims "This was THE PEAK!" we risk giving hardcore deniers short-term evidence to the contrary. In point of fact our nation could not "afford" these claims in the 1970's - if we'd listened to Carter and put on our sweaters, US armed forces would not be all over Middle East and Central Asian oil fields like ants at a picnic. To err with an early prediction again will make matters far, far worse.


This is way more important than being the first to call The Peak. (And let's face it, part of this is testosterone poisioning at work - i.e. the male impetus to be the first to pee on a bush and thereby establish territory as one's own.)

Let's stick to the facts and cautious projections - they are more than enough to build an overwhelming case.

Hans Noeldner

"Civilization is the presence of enlightened self-restraint"


Those are noble thoughts. However, being right is meaningless. The world is filled with Cassandras (Greek myth) whose correct warning were not paid attention to.

Didn't Winston Churchill decry Neville Chamberlain's Peace in our Time over and over again as the wise crowds applauded Chamberlain's more acceptable message?

Peak Oil is but one of a long list of issues pointing to TEOTWAWKI. There's a new documentary movie out whose title is something like --Living At the End of Empire. Sorry I didn't save my bookmarks on it. Anyway, apparently midway through the movie they scroll out a list of some 50 issues that point to the TEOTWAWKI, with PO and GW being just a few of the many entries.

The problem is that PO is buried among an avalanche of sky-is-falling proclamations. The wise among the crowds have heard all of these before.

The only people who will listen to you are those that you catch at an off guard moment when they are willing to listen.

I agree that one shouldn't risk credibility by proclaiming that the Peak definitely occurred Thanksgiving 2005 or July 2006 or whatever. The moment of Peak is irrelevant. It's how we face the inevitable decline that counts.

Since it came up - I just finished watching Life at the End of Empire.

I'll confess to downloading it via BitTorrent...

But then I went to and ordered nine copies of the DVD for distribution amongst the folk I care about, so figure I've atoned for that sin at least!

A couple of points bugged me - Yes, human's ARE just part of the earth system, but there ARE unique, special, meaningful qualities arising from human minds within that sphere, and science isn't inherently bad - not that the film actually said it was, just left that flavour.

Jaymax (cornucomer-doomopian)

PS: Thanks HO!

Link doesn't seem to work; never does google search turn up a good link.


I keep forgetting that I should never trust my memory...
Jaymax (cornucomer-doomopian)

Well at least TOD made their PO links list:

"Peak Lite" is already here. Happened early in the decade while production went to 99% of capacity, just in case you missed it. Caused by Chindian demand and the inability to expand capacity.

Production rose a number of years, but so did price..

For us importers, the reflections look like this:
ABSOLUTE prodution could theoretically rise.
PRICE could certainly fall some (like it did a year ago).
EXPORTS have fallen more than 5% in two years.
EXPORTS will never pass their previous peak.

DEMAND FOR THESE EXPORTS will hardly fall, as more countries turn into importing countries.

The era of Post Peak has WITHOUT DOUBT begun.

Right, Roger Conners?
Just remember the Golden Years, all you at the top!

Hi Peak,

Getting back late to this discussion - I really like your summary here.

re: "DEMAND FOR THESE EXPORTS will hardly fall, as more countries turn into importing countries."

This seems like a crucial point.

Spunkledevil, you are correct in stating that peak oil proponents have been wrong before in predicting the exact timing of its occurence. Your are also correct that these previous predictions of a peak (1970's) have made it more difficult for the general public to accept the reality now, as they don't want to be duped again.

However, I must disagree with your opinion that an early prediction would make matter worse. Those predicting a peak right now in production of conventional oil are in fact doing humanity a great service. Even if we find out over the next several years that the peak is in fact several decades away (cross your fingers), the people predicting a current peak at least have brought the issue to the attention of the public. It's clear that peak oil is not something that the media (and those with an vested interest in keeping the infinite oil delusion going) wishes to disclose, and so any information put forth to the public will at the very least create debate and hopefully initiate others to come to their own conclusions through their own research.

If nobody makes predictions, right or wrong, of when they believe the peak to occur, we run an even greater risk of being wrong; the risk that a harsh reality will sneak up us with not even the smoothest political gargle able to save us.

At that point we might be asking, why didn't more people know about this when there was action that could have been taken?

To err with an early prediction again will make matters far, far worse.

I wouldn't be too worried about early predictions. Our middle case for the top five net exporters indicates that their remaining net export capacity, at the 2005 rate of export, would be exhausted in about 13 years (2018).

Of course, that's not the way it works, which is why the net exports from the five are currently declining. Our middle case is for top five hitting zero net exports is 2031, 26 years after peak exports in 2005.

In any case, I think that the best we can do at this point is to be ready with a credible plan to make things not as bad as they would otherwise have been, when it begins to dawn on most people that it will probably be difficult to have an infinite rate of increase in our consumption of a finite energy resource base.

WT, I am a little confused by what you wrote above. In the first paragraph you claim that net exports will go to zero by 2018, but in the next paragraph you claim that it is not until 2031. Can you explain?

People will not believe, and will not act in time, but it won't be because someone called the peak too soon. It is because even the most optimistic scenarios of things we really could do to help deal with the situation would result in massive changes to their way of life. This is perceived as too frightening and risky, because there clearly is not any problem right now at all, and therefore why would one take rash actions?

How in the world do you expect to get through that? Acceptance will not come until it gets much worse - too bad to ignore - and it is already very late to be starting. What will it be then?

Hell, it's hard enough even if you understand and accept what is happening to go out into the Alice-in-Wonderland world around us and not lose your reference. There is obviously not a problem! Many of us deal with this dichotomy every day, and it is disconcerting and uncomfortable. It would be much easier to ignore it.

As much as I would like to believe that once things get sufficiently unpleasant, people will awaken to peak oil and start down the arduous path of remedial action, human history tells me otherwise. Mankind is very stubborn, with respect to its established ways and ideologies, and most will resist change all the way to their ultimate demise. Yes, there will be a few people who will awaken and will be willing to change, but they will remain members of a substantial minority.

When things get worse, this will merely drive people into deeper denial. They will blame: oil corporations, Islamofascists, OPEC, Liberals, Conservatives, Communists, Anarchists, the Russians, the Chinese, the Israelis, the Iranians, the Americans, their own government, atheists, and other hobgoblins for the energy crisis, but will never acknowledge their way of life is in any way at fault. They will no more discard the God of Eternal Growth, than a Christian would willingly give up Jesus.

Unfortunately, for those of us who are aware of the situation and are willing to change, many will be dragged down with the rest of them, like a panicked drowner pulling down his rescuer. Real change is unlikely until most of the worshipers of the God of Eternal Growth are called up to Him.

This is consistent with the invariable pattern of human social change throughout history. No meaningful progress is made until the new generation, born into new circumstances, displaces the old, and even this requires the catalyst of education to bring about.

Perhaps we should focus more on educating the next generation, who are more receptive to change, and preparing to pick up the pieces of our soon-to-be shattered world than struggling to save those who are unwilling to save themselves. With this is mind, it may be desirable to take precautions against being that rescuer, who is pulled under by those who he seeks to save. Offer a life preserver, but stay out of arms reach.

Not my approach :-)

Best Hopes from New Orleans,


A better approach might be to begin with the recognition that in the long run, the non-renewable resources WILL run out, and that we MUST eventually transition to a sustainable economy built entirely on renewable resources; there simply is no other possible future for us. Furthermore, we cannot wait until the non-renewable resources are all gone to start thinking about this; we are going to have to use our non-renewable resource base while we still have it to build out the infrastructure we will need to support a sustainable economy. Even if key resources like oil have not yet quite peaked (and they may have), they are close enough to it that we had better start making serious progress on the transition now. Why wait until we are definitely past peak, and the economy is having to cope with increasingly dire shortages?

Part of the advantage of this approach is that it is not exclusively about oil; other resources like metals are a concern as well. Strange and counterintuitive as it might seem, I suspect that it is easier for the average person to grasp the abstract concept that ALL non-renewable resources will eventually deplete than it is to accept the specific concept that OIL will eventually deplete.

Furthermore, if you start with a future that sounds different but not terrible, and then work backwards with a discussion about how to get from here to there, that sounds a lot less frightening than simply telling people that the supply of oil is going to be inexorably declining.

"like metals"
Well, metals are not renewable, but they are recyclable.
Besides, with more energy use, you can mine a lot more metals - or just fish them out of the ocean water..
Or mine them from the moon, for that matter.

Well, since you mention it, metals are nothing like non-renewable FFs, once burned and gone..

That is, if you have the energy to extract 'em...
Just remember the Golden Years, all you at the top!

Hi HO,
I've enjoyed your summaries of the conference sessions very much. I don't think I said tie advocacy to an "energy event." But I am certainly a proponent of advocacy of all kinds. I want to assure everyone reading this that I am not so naive to think that we will have all appropriate responses in place prior to public recognition of dwindling resources. But the more planning we can get in place, the better off we will be.
As I watch the fires consuming much of my region, I am cognizant of the amount of planning and preparation that goes into responding to such a horrific convergeance of events. Above all else, this is government's role and this is where we can excel. Human nature may not allow more than this. When the crisis does hit, we can only hope that a leader will emerge (whether inside or outside of government), that will create a compelling vision that inspires us all.
Debbie Cook

Hi, Debbie:
I really didn't mean to pick on you or to distort what you were saying. I thought I understood what you meant and was trying to build on it. And I am sorry if i misquoted you, the comment came out of the discussion and I don't always properly identify who said what. The point that I seem to remember being made was that it is better in getting someone's attention if you can tie it to something that has already got their attention.

I am really sorry to hear about the fires out there and hope that they can get the situation under control quickly. We'll be thinking of you.
(The first major piece of equipment that came to my lab was from your city)



Nice post. I haven't posted for awhile because it is all known except the details. My personal energy is going into local solutions, small that they are.

You are 100% correct in that what the U.S. and world needs to do is find more energy by conserving and switching to electricity.

Conserve first.
Use less liquid fuels.
Then one can think about alternatives.

The problem now is that we are trying to replace existing consumption with alternatives. It wont ever happen. Only after we develop strategies for using less energy can alternatives be sustainable, but the political will isn't there yet. We need to feel the pain before we will change.

Excellent post.

It is possible that we are about to get a test of the peak oil and available reserve question, namely that there is some likelihood that we Americans are about to blunder into a war with Iran. It is at least plausible that as war approaches (or soon after it starts) the Iranians will decide that it is too dangerous to their own people to run oil loading platforms in a war zone, and shut down their exports. That's 2-3 Mbpd off the market. Also, it may be difficult once the war starts to maintain oil exports through Basra, not to mention that the possible Iraq-Turkey war might shut down exports from Northern Iraq.

If Saudi Arabia has 4-5 Mbpd of reserve capacity, nothing interesting will happen. I suspect that local support for the likelihood of this option is weak. If KSA has little reserve capacity, the effect will be like Katrina, only larger.

Heading Out,

Thank you for your review of the ASPO-Houston conference. I had a health problem and was only able to attend on October 17 and really was hoping to network at the conference. Oh well, next year in California.

It seems pretty obvious that ou politicians aren't going to do anything to mitigate, we're going to have to organise and address the problems on the local level. Peak oil and climate change are issues that both parties would just as soon went away until after the the '08 election, there's neglect by both parties since Ronald Reagan took the solar cells off the Whitehouse roof.

When Jimmy Carter addressed the energy problem after the 2nd OPEC Embargo, the United States was importing only 30% of the oil that we use in the United States And the conservation incentives for energy were working very well. It scared the Saudis and OPEC members a lot-their response was to flood the world with inexpensive oil. This caused the onshore rig count in the US to fall to 600 rigs from ver 3500, and caused massive lay-offs in oil and gas exploration in the US, caused most of the independent operators to retire or sell out, and totally crippled the domestic oilfield manufacturing industry. Now's here where I start speaking heresy on The Oil Drum. The oil and gas search of the late 1970-1982 was fairly successful. The Giddings Austin Chalk field was brought onstream and produced 500 million barrels, the cretatious limestone and sandstones of the East Texas-Mexia-Talco fault zone have produced anothe 500 million barrels, and the "tight" gas sands that they developed have proved the most economic wells in the last couple of years. In other words, the congress and Reagan sold the domestic oil industry down the river, and its really hurt the US economicially and made us totally vulnerable to an embargo

They are doing the same thing with LNG. The new LNG ports and expansion have collapsed the US gas prices to around $6-$7.50/ MCF when the depletion combined with Katerina/Rita would have natural Gas prices over $10 and the Woodford-Barnett-Fayetteville shales would be economic at that rate.

The reasons I care are balance of payments and security. All the money spent on drilling gas wells in the US and purchasing gas in the US stays here. The multinational oil companies take most of the money overseas, adding to our balance of payment problem and adding to our energy vulnerability. Boone Pickens has made it very clear, we can quickly replace much of our fleet of internal combustion engine transportation with Liquified Natural Gas for about $2,000 per car or light truck, and once again all the money stays here in the US. Together with Alan Drake' Electrification Of Transportation system ideas, we can possibly beat the Export Land Model. But, we have to stop the importation of Liquified Natural Gas to do it.
Bob Ebersole

I saw you at the table, and almost came over to say hello, but you were checking Matt Simmons in at the time, and so I thought I'd come back later. Sorry we couldn't get together, and hope that you will improve and that we can both meet in California.


I need to get a new TV. Matt Simmons looks a lot more pink in person than he does on my television set.

I'm afraid the diabetes flair-up was my fault. I should have taken the 15 minutes to check my blood sugar and eat something substantial, I know that when I have something like a boil my sugar goes out of whack, and being 15 minutes late wasn't going to make a bit of difference. I'm just grateful I didn't hurt anyone or get hurt myself. That was scary.
Bob Ebersole

I thought that it was computers that made it easier to find oil that caused the price to drop. Granted, Saudi Arabia really did ramp up their oil production there.

"“At a Peak Oil meeting in Houston,” I said. “What’s that?” this well-educated and generally well-informed lady asked me. To me this encapsulates the problem, not the problem we have, the problem that the general public has. They have no idea of either the size, or the immediacy of the problems that are now almost upon us."

Or -

Perhaps they're part of the "more rational" middle.

You know the ones who haven't bought into some phony-baloney idea that we're just about to crash and burn.

Just a thought....

Mr. Wallace

I'm not sure who you're referring to when you speak of those who have bought into a "phoney-baloney idea that we're just about to crash and burn". There are always going to be a few people who believe that, but the majority of the people aware of the peak oil problem don't view it as apocaplyse now, but rather motivation to change the way we interact with the world.

Grin, I've learned that when I give an opinion, it is usually a good idea to give a reference to back it up. Not that people always believe the references, but they are there so that people can read the same facts that I have used to make up my mind, and can then make up their own informed opinions - at least that is what I hope happens.

If you look at the top of the post there are factual reports that I quote that indicate that we are starting to reach the margins of profitable investment in parts of the gas industry of this country. Throughout the conference we were provided with speakers who also gave information that led to the same sort of conclusion in other fuels and places. If you read the press reports that Leanan has kindly included in the Drumbeats, you will see that this conference has been recognized as a very rational look at the problem.

I didn't believe all I heard, (you can see some of that in my comments) but you know what? If, having read the reviews, you conclude differently, then I have still served the purpose that I set out to accomplish.

Thank you for reading.

As you may have noted I have been to a number of ethanol related meetings over the past couple of years. The work that is being done by companies such as Monsanto in developing corn yields in excess of 300 bushel/acre suggests that the criticism of EROI figures is somewhat out of date, and that perhaps a more even evaluation of potential future yields might be a more useful presentation next year.

The problem with ethanol is not the corn yield, or developing the enzymes for breaking down cellulose, or any other feedstock factor, it's the fact that it has to be distilled/dehydrated to 99.5% purity. It takes one BTU to raise one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit, and that translates into expending no less than one-third the energy content of the ethanol output just to distill and dehydrate it, ignoring any other energy inputs into the entire process. These are physical limits, not engineering challenges. It would probably be better to focus on alternatives that don't require distillation.

For an industrial process where what is done to a unit of material is:
(1) Heat it up to some operationg temperature.
(2) Perform some processing on it.
(3) Cool it back down to ambient temperature.
It is possible to use a heat exchanger to transfer the heat lost in phase three to the next batch for step (1).
So at least some of the energy need not be lost.

This does not mean that I think biofuels are promising to replace our oil based fuels wholesale. But with the appropriate research, and time they can be a part of the solution.

Yes, I know. The biorefining industry has taken all the lesson from the oil refining industry, where I used to work, on heat use optimization. Energy is not wasted in a biorefinery. But when you start with water at 10-15% alcohol concentration, there's really no way around spending a lot of additional energy to get it purified, even with heat exchangers.

But then, I really don't think there are "solutions"--the absolute magnitude of the problem, as HO points out, defies solutions. It requires adaptations and responses appropriate to local conditions. And the less energy intensive, the better.

Good question.

Here is a physics thought experiment.
Assume ambient temperature is 25 deg C.
Assume your first work object is at 95 deg C.

After you finish processing it, you bring it into direct contact with a new work object still at 25 deg C (ambient).

Per thermodynamics, heat flows from a hot object to the cooler one until the temperatures equalize.

So the best you can do with a first "heat exchange" between finished workpiece #1 and next workpiece #2 is a balance at about 60 deg C (95+25=120 and then divide this by 2 to find the equilibrium point).

Of course, as the two objects approach equilibrium, the rate at which heat flows from one to the other decays exponentially. Time is money. So you never will be able to get next workpiece #2 up to the ideal 60 deg C in the real world.

Still some heat exchange might be better than none. Check out how the heat exchange in a Stirling engine works. :-)

In a counterflow heat exchanger, that limitation does not hold true.

There are still the limits of capital costs for complex plumbing made from copper and stainless steel, and the rate/efficiency tradeoff, which also boils down to a capital cost (haha, good pun there, eh?).

"The work that is being done by companies such as Monsanto in developing corn yields in excess of 300 bushel/acre suggests that the criticism of EROI figures is somewhat out of date, and that perhaps a more even evaluation of potential future yields might be a more useful presentation next year."

Well, I don't know about that, my faith in alcohol is pretty weak....but Heading Out, can you promise to do us the same favor on some other outdated figures, such as:

PV Solar panels: I often see stats all over the place that are still based in the 1970's numbers

Batteries: The advances in batteries such as the advanced ones by A123, Valance and others is being completely dismissed, with most of the weights and power per kilo and power per square meter given reflecting what was true of lead acid batteries in the 1970's

Distributed gerneration: Still regarded as a joke, even though it is being used every day by businesses, schools, hospitals, prisons, etc.

Methane recapture: Will it replace the oil and gas we use? Of course not. But is a vast resource? Check it out.

We are facing a crisis that is coming upon us MUCH faster than peak oil: The rapidly aging population in all the developed world (Japan, Europe, and the U.S. in particular) and a crisis of education that has been predicted for a quarter century is finally beginning to take effect, as fewer and fewer people even have any idea what any of the technology they use does or how it does it.

70% of all oil is used in transportation alone. Think about it.
Oh, one more little thing...the combined profit of the "financial services" industry is greater than that of the oil and gas industry. People put their effort where it is rewarded.


Back when I was single, I used to "put my faith in alcohol" every Friday night when I was trying to meet girls....

Alcohol makes bad/ugly solutions look better? ;)

hey, no jokes here. He obviously made his choice. And it's none of our buisiness if the alcohol helped the process or not..

Actually I try to. If you go back and look you will note that I talked about the efficiency of solar film, after attending the conference in Santa Barbara in Feb, and hearing the inventor of part of the process admit he was still at 5.9% but had a path to 15% (numbers are approximate). I have just talked about the collection and preparation costs for switchgrass. I agree that up-to-date numbers are very important.

I don't think there will be a single "aha!" moment for the general public. There will be those in denial that insist that it is price gouging, or that the Arabs are out to screw us, or that tar sands or ethanol can somehow save us. They will point to denialist websites and somehow take comfort that life as usual can resume at some point in the future, and that all we need to do is tough it out through the rough patch.

Ultimately though higher prices will force the issue in the sense that whatever the cause, it cannot be ignored.

I wonder how the silent Republican majority of Southern California is handling the Global Warming issue these days?

Do they still think that refugee-ism applies only to the less fortunate and less deserving of New Orleans?

Oh yeah. I forgot. Republicans are not "refugees". They are "evacuated-headies". Rush Limbaugh this morning was trying to flip this around by saying the firefighters should be pulled back out of harm's way because the cut-&-run Democrats like it that way. Ha ha. That's a good one from the Oxy-toxin head case. (I always enjoy a good Rush in the morning.)

The prevailing recommendation that increasingly became common as presentations continued was that there is no alternative to conservation.

agree. in a long run, that's the only solution. but, realistically, will that happen on a meaningful scale before most people experiencing a painful shock? and if one views the Katrina episode as a prelude of what could play out in a shock, would the nation's first reaction be to conserve or to war? if we don't want to see the hydrocarbon inflated bubbly world pop in a bloody conflict, a way must be found to mitigate the impending shock. and a way there is: ammonia (NH3) as liquid fuel! to folks who have followed Matt Simmons' presentations closely, you may have noticed this topic in some of his recent talks. the 4th ammonia fuel annual conference was held early last week right before the world oil conference. more can be found at:

I've been trying to find audio of the ASPO conference to no avail. I couldn't find audio for their 2006 conference either.

If the idea is to get the message out and educate people, then providing audio files would be a terrific outreach initiative on the part of ASPO.

I have listened to audio files from smaller peak oil conferences, such as one held in Ireland a couple of years ago, which really enlightened me to the issues, etc. It seems that providing audio files of the presentations would not be that difficult for ASPO to do. Are there legal reasons why they can't do it?

Hi Thaxter,

My guess is "No." My suggestion is to write to the ASPO folks and ask them.

There may be a technical reason, such as they're having only arranged for video recording and it's tricky to edit into audio only or something...I don't know on the technical side. It would be really great to have audio available for producers to pick up and run on indymedia/public radio.

Thanks for the good reporting. I've been advertising my new book on the site this week, and am glad to have had that space. I've enjoyed reading about the conference.

The peak oil question is interesting when one thinks about the probability of a bunch of new supergiants offshore from Kazakhstan, for example. As it happens, I'm going to be in Houston next week (Monday Oct. 29) on my book tour, speaking before the Society of Petroleum Engineers, and then the World Affairs Council. I'll be glad to see your members.

Steve LeVine, author
The Oil and The Glory (Random House)

As a Social Worker and Public Health Educator, I was most interested in comments I read during the conference about PO effects on vulnerable and marginalized populations. Engineers, geologists, energy analysts, and investment bankers get it - what's scary is that the people in my world don't. They're the ones who interact with, provide services to, and plan for the needs of vulnerable and marginalized in our country. My advice to all of us is to begin to enter other sectors; realms that you may not be as familiar with (like Rotary, Health or Social Services Committees or your other City/Civic clubs) to educate them on what you know. If the media isn't getting it, there are other ways to get the word out. It's starting slowly in the Public Health sector, but we need more of you to sound the alarm.

Lesa Dixon-Gray

First they ignore you,
Then they laugh at you,
Then they fight you,
Then you win.
~Mahatma Gandhi

"The energy and capital costs of development in the more marginal deposits that are the remaining reserve will not justify the cost of finding and exploiting them. No wonder that companies are buying back their own stock, instead of investing in other “opportunities.”"

As best I can tell, this has a lot to do with the major oil companies stubbornly keeping their reference price for investment greenlighting at around $40/bbl.

I brought a close friend, a psychiatrist doing her residency in New Orleans (BEYOND tough job !) with me for Friday at ASPO (all the time she could get off), She is active/co-leading in formalizing and getting funding for an ad hoc clinic located is a resident drug treatment facility in MidCity. And I have my own. less impressive efforts locally.

Best Hopes,