Drumbeat: August 27, 2009

Happy 150th, Oil! So Long, and Thanks for Modern Civilization

One hundred and fifty years ago on Aug. 27, Colonel Edwin L. Drake sunk the very first commercial well that produced flowing petroleum.

The discovery that large amounts of oil could be found underground marked the beginning of a time during which this convenient fossil fuel became America’s dominant energy source.

But what began 150 years ago won’t last another 150 years — or even another 50. The era of cheap oil is ending, and with another energy transition upon us, we’ve got to scavenge all the lessons we can from its remarkable history.

“I would see this as less of an anniversary to note for celebration and more of an anniversary to note how far we’ve come and the serious moment that we’re at right now,” said Brian Black, an energy historian at Pennsylvania State University and and author of the book Petrolia. “Energy transitions happen and I argue that we’re in one right now and that we need to aggressively look to the future to what’s going to happen after petroleum.”

Peak Oil’s Marketing Problem

This week’s Op-Ed in the New York Times titled “Peak Oil is a Waste of Energy” by energy consultant Michael Lynch was a virtual pandora’s box, judging from the number of comments left by readers. Any op-ed piece is self-evidently open for dispute, and dispute this one the New York Times’ readers did. I’m almost as fascinated by the smart, and largely negative, reactions to the piece as I am to Lynch’s anti-peak oil rhetoric itself.

Many scientists and social scientists take M. King Hubbert’s infamous bell-shaped “peak oil” curve as gospel on the planet’s finite oil reserves. And why not? If you trust that we are extracting oil at a faster rate than the earth produces it, then oil is a non-renewable resource. So it makes sense that at some point we, the oil drinkers, will hit rock-bottom and understandably, we want to know when that day will come.

Joseph Romm: Michael Lynch, Wrong on Oil Prices for Over a Decade, is Wrong About Peak Oil

Here's my bet to Lynch. Let's take the average price of oil from 2010 to 2015. For every $1 a barrel it is below $40, I'll pay you $200, if you pay me a mere $100 for every $1 a barrel it is above $40.

How the history of oil becomes an argument over its future

It’s 150 years since oil was first drilled. Do you…

a) Write a long piece for a respected periodical, reflecting on your Pulitzer-prize winning book, increased volatility and state-control of oil, and the folly of peak oil?

b) Run an oped by a well-known critic of peak oil, criticising peak oil?

c) Write an angry rebuttal of said oped, and let the debate unfold?

d) Invite the author of said oped to a long-term bet on oil prices settling at $40?

The New York Times on Peak Oil - Don't Worry, Be Happy

For those who follow the debate over Peak Oil - the idea that world oil production is peaking or is about to peak, and will then decline with disastrous results for the global economy - this has been a banner year for the Peak Oil side.

First, oil prices spiked to record levels - just when many Peak Oilers predicted they would - and helped stagger the economy. Then prices declined dramatically, as Peak Oilers also predicted, but began skyrocketing again even though demand for oil was off sharply - as they also predicted. Based purely on foresight, the Peak Oil side has been scoring touchdowns left and right.

Whither the Oil Age? 150 years of black gold

What's especially intriguing today is that Drake was inspired to drill his well by the high price of whale oil—the lighting fuel of choice back at the time. That high price was a result of dwindling supplies, as aggressive whaling had pushed many species to the brink of extinction.

And now we're doing the same thing with oil. Massive consumption by the U.S. and Europe, combined with growing consumption in China, India and the rest of the developing world, seems to be straining existing oil supplies. Oil price shocks are one result, and perhaps the end of cheap oil, or even what some call "peak oil" (when historic supplies crest and start to decline). In any case, the next question is: who will be the Edwin Drake of the 21st-century energy economy?

Peak Oil? Urban Farms? Cuba's Been There, Done It

Last year all of us were afforded a frightening glimpse of how expensive fuel can trigger a global food crisis. And then, when zooming oil prices tumbled again (for now), causing food commodity prices to drop (for now), our news media moved on.

But I didn't. I became interested in Cuba as an example of how to adapt when the next, similar crisis comes -- and stays.

Four crucial resources that may run out in your lifetime

We're living in lucky times. Living standards - in the Western world, at least - are the highest in history. It's an era of relative peace and plenty that would amaze our ancestors. But it's not going to continue forever; we're already stretching many of our natural resources to their limits, and the world's population will jump from 6.5 billion to around 9 billion over the next 50 years. Get ready for a painful correction - here are four interconnected resources that are headed for a catastrophic squeeze within our lifetime.

Global Fresh Water Crisis, Peak Water

The notion of peak water probably sounds crazy to most people. The earth is 70% covered by water. The water cycle replenishes water on a continuous basis. The global warming enthusiasts tell us that glaciers are melting and oceans are rising. This should make water more plentiful.

But, as they say in the real estate business – Location, Location, Location. Freshwater shortages in the wrong places could have calamitous consequences to those regions, worldwide commodity prices, the economic future of nations with water shortages and possible war. Regional water scarcity means water usage exceeds the annual natural replenishment from the water cycle. The impact of water scarcity can be far reaching. It can lead to food shortages, famine, and starvation. Many nations, regions and states have mismanaged their water resources, and they will have to suffer the long-term consequences.

Big Oil Still Finds Barriers in Libya

The release of the Lockerbie bomber triggered speculation that British energy companies trying to access Libya's oil wealth could soon hit a bonanza. But in reality, Big Oil is already there, and its interest in Libya is cooling.

Iraq violence threatens oil deals

BAGHDAD (UPI) -- Recent events in Iraq have cast a pall over the government's plans to have a November auction for potentially lucrative oil contracts that are vital for the country's reconstruction.

The surge in violence of the last few weeks, political uncertainty caused by this week's breakup of the ruling Shiite coalition and Iraqis' refusal to give Big Oil the terms it wants are likely to drive off the international companies that see the country's untapped reserves as the big prize.

Peak oil around 2030 says ‘misquoted’ IEA

Since Independent’s claim was not backed up by a direct quote from Dr Birol, I asked the IEA press office for confirmation. A spokesman emailed:

“I spoke with Fatih who said he was misquoted by the journalist. Concerning peak oil, his position is clear and has not changed since WEO 2008. WEO 2008 said in chapter 11 (highlights page 249) that global conventional oil production will peak around 2020. The article incorrectly made it sound that the total oil production (including unconventional oil etc.) is going to peak at that time. Taking into consideration gains from unconventional oil, oil peak will be later than 2020, more around 2030. Also, oil peak can be delayed by improving energy efficiency, therefore consuming less oil and consequently producing less oil.”

So the IEA has not changed its position, and is not forecasting peak oil in ten years. It has, however, and for the first time as far as I am aware, named the date, if only tentatively: ‘around 2030′.

Study: Oil speculators dominate open interest in oil futures

A new policy paper by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy shows a clear increase in the size and influence of noncommercial traders, or “speculators,” in the oil futures market since regulations were eased by the Commodities Futures Modernization Act of 2000. Speculators now constitute about 50 percent of those holding outstanding positions in the U.S. oil futures market, compared with only about 20 percent prior to 2002. The report also finds that the correlation between oil and the dollar has strengthened significantly over the past several years.

The coauthors of “Who is in the Oil Futures Market and How Has It Changed?”-- Kenneth Medlock and Amy Myers Jaffe -- advocate that the government should revise its policies to reverse these trends. Kenneth Medlock is an energy fellow at the Baker Institute and adjunct professor of economics. Amy Myers Jaffe is a fellow in energy studies at the Baker Institute and associate director of the Rice Energy Program.

London Energy Traders Charged in Oil-For-Food Investigation

(Bloomberg) -- Two energy traders in London were charged with violating United Nations sanctions by funneling illegal bribes to Iraq in exchange for oil contracts, the first individual prosecutions in the U.K. in the oil-for-food scandal.

London businessman Aftab Al-Hassan, 65, was charged with 13 counts for payments totaling $1.6 million he made to accounts in Iraq, U.K. Serious Fraud Office investigating lawyer Jacob Blatch told a London court today. Riad El-Taher was also charged with violating UN sanctions, SFO spokesman David Jones said.

Gulf States Stuck Between U.S., Iran On Nuclear Issue

Iran's leaders say the country's nuclear program exists only for the purpose of generating electricity. Western intelligence agencies say the Islamic republic aims to produce nuclear weapons and intimidate its neighbors. How close is Iran to getting the bomb? How might it be stopped? And what are the implications for the United States and the rest of the world if Iran succeeds? This week, NPR looks at Iran and its suspected nuclear weapons programs in a series.

How PHEVs and EVs Will Sabotage America's Drive for Energy Independence

Tuesday I asked a frequent commenter and staunch electric vehicle advocate whether he ever questioned the ethics of building an EV that can save one owner 400 gallons of gas per year while using enough batteries to build ten Prius-class hybrids that could save their owners a combined total of 1,600 gallons of gas per year. I then spent an hour in stunned silence as the critical importance of that question crystallized in my mind. I didn't get a responsive answer from the commenter, but I did get one of those rare moments of clarity when everything suddenly falls into place.

For years the mainstream media, scientists, elected officials and promoters have written and spoken ad nauseum about how a new generation of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or PHEVs, will liberate America from the tyranny of imported oil. The problem is the promises are based on flawed assumptions and utterly false. At their best, PHEVs and EVs are all sizzle and no steak when it comes to national energy independence. At their worst, they are deep cover saboteurs that will undermine America's drive for energy independence while stridently claiming to be part of the solution.

New Analysis Shows America’s Heartland Hardest Hit by Climate Change with States Heating up 10+ Degrees

ARLINGTON, VA — America’s heartland will suffer the greatest jump in temperatures from climate change over the next century – with some states potentially heating up more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit – threatening the nation’s agriculture industry and food security, according to a new analysis by The Nature Conservancy.

The scientific analysis, which looked at likely temperature changes across the United States over the next 100 years, found that Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa would heat up the most if emissions continue to rise unchecked.

Next were South Dakota, Oklahoma, Missouri and Illinois, all of which would experience more than a 9.5 degree F increase in their average annual temperatures.

“To many, climate change doesn’t seem real until it affects them, or their backyards. From the food we put on the table to the animals that make our country unique, this study shows that none of us is immune if temperatures continue to rise as projected,” said Jonathan Hoekstra, Director of Climate Change for The Nature Conservancy. “In many states across the country, the weather and landscapes could be nearly unrecognizable in 100 years.”

Climate protection 'to cost more'

Protecting societies against impacts of climate change will be much more expensive than previously believed, according to a new analysis.

In 2007 the UN climate convention came up with a sum of $49-171bn per year.

The new report says the UN sums omitted important factors and the true cost will be two to three times higher.

John Michael Greer: Entropy gets no respect

...The hard reality is that the minority of us who happened to have been born in a few powerful countries squandered half a billion years of stored photosynthesis to give ourselves a brief period of spectacular economic abundance, and by doing so, foreclosed the chance that anybody else would enjoy that same abundance in the future. Fossil fuels are not renewable resources in any time frame accessible to our species. Every barrel and ton and cubic foot of fossil fuel we use now is subtracted from the total available to our descendants; despite an orgy of handwaving, no other resource can provide anything approaching the glut of cheap abundant energy on which our lifestyles of relative privilege depend.

Yet this point of view is at least as unmentionable in polite society just now as were the gritty realities of European colonialism in its time, or the equally gritty facts underlying the ascendancy of the world’s industrial nations over the Third World today. The strenuous efforts to find a racial basis for European supremacy a century ago, and the equally vigorous efforts to hold up contemporary Western institutions as the key to prosperity and peace in the Third World today, thus have precise equivalents in the enthusiasm with which every imaginable alternative energy resource gets treated by government officials and media pundits throughout the industrial world.

None of these resources can actually provide the cheap abundant energy needed to maintain the kind of society we have today. I know that this is a controversial statement just now. Still, it’s worth noting that every alternative energy resource that’s actually been brought into production has turned out, at best, to provide a modest increment to existing energy supplies, and that only if you don’t keep track of the energy subsidy the new resource gets from fossil fuels. Of course technologies that haven’t been put into production look more promising, and the further they are from implementation, the more impressive they look; hype, often geared to the very practical goal of selling shares in IPOs, is at least as abundant in the energy field as anywhere else.

Oil’s 150th Anniversary: Whose Happy Birthday?

But self-sufficiency is not what independence means. The problem of oil dependence is not about the amount of oil consumed or imported. The problem is that oil is a strategic commodity by virtue of its virtual monopoly over transportation fuel. This monopoly gives a small group of nations inordinate power on the world’s stage. “Independence” as Webster Dictionary says, is “not being subject to control by others,” or in our case, being a free actor by reducing the role of oil in world politics - turning it from a strategic commodity into one interchangeable with others.

This is exactly what happened to another commodity which was once monopolized, and considered critical to humanity’s functioning: salt. Odd as it seems, for centuries salt mines conferred national power. Wars were fought over salt. Colonies were formed in remote places where it happened to be found. That was because salt had a virtual monopoly over food preservation. With the advent of canning, electricity, and refrigeration, salt lost its strategic status, and salt rich domains like Orissa, Tortuga and Boa Vista that once held as much sway as today’s Gulf Emirates are no longer places of strategic importance. Countries still use, import, and trade salt, but salt is no longer a commodity that dictates world affairs. Turning oil into salt is what energy independence is all about.

A Brief History Of The Oil Barrel

Aug. 27 marks the sesquicentennial of the first oil well, which was drilled in Titusville, Penn. It has been more than a century since any major producer shipped oil in an actual barrel, but the unit has been the industry's standard ever since the overwhelmed Pennsylvania oilmen struck their first gusher. Before U.S. drilling began in 1859, "rock oil" (to differentiate it from vegetable oil or animal fat) was sopped up with rags, wrung out and peddled as a cure for everything from headaches to deafness. Spurred by demand for lamp fuel as whale blubber grew scarce, derricks popped up all over Pennsylvania's oil region in the 1860s--although subsequent overproduction drove prices so far down that at one point, a wooden barrel was worth twice as much as the oil it contained, according to Daniel Yergin's definitive tome on oil, The Prize.

Drake’s World

On this day 150 years ago—August 27, 1859—Colonel Edwin Drake struck oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania, with the world’s first oil well. We should all say a toast of thanks to the man who helped raise the curtain on the modern world.

Mexico's Pemex sees oil output down in 2010: paper

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's state oil monopoly Pemex is forecasting crude production in Mexico will fall in 2010 to 2.5 million barrels per day, Reforma newspaper said on Wednesday, citing Pemex head Jesus Reyes Heroles.

Pemex currently has an oil production goal of 2.65 million bpd for 2009. Mexican oil output fell 7.8 percent in July compared to the same month a year ago to 2.561 million bpd, as Pemex battles with declining output from its Cantarell oil field.

Qatari oil minister calls for status quo on production

Qatari Oil Minister Abdullah Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah urged OPEC to keep crude production targets unchanged when member states meet next month as economies struggle to recover from a recession.

“The world economy is still weak and this is not the time to discuss a change of quotas,” Al-Attiyah said today in a telephone interview from Doha.

Industry worries rise as natural gas sags

Despite recent cutbacks in production, natural gas prices are at a seven-year low and the U.S. still faces surpluses, fueling concern the industry has yet to hit bottom.

At the same time, oil and gas producers are beginning to see operational costs creep up again after pushing suppliers to lower prices for products and services in recent months, putting further pressure on margins, an industry analyst said Wednesday at the NAPE summer conference in Houston.

“This is a problem for all of us at the moment,” Bob Fryklund, vice president of IHS-Cambridge Energy Research Associates, told a ballroom of oil and gas professionals during a panel discussion at the conference, formerly known as the North American Prospect Expo.

In 2010 IRS could cut 401(k) contribution limit to $16,000

Low inflation has made food and gas more affordable during the recession, but there's a downside: Social Security beneficiaries probably won't get a raise next year, and the IRS may reduce the amount workers can contribute to their 401(k) plans.

...The IRS is reviewing the relevant law, IRS spokeswoman Nancy Mathis said in an e-mail. With some inflation figures still outstanding, it's too early to speculate on limits for 2010, she said. In September 2008, inflation was 4.94%, because of energy costs. It's been negative since March, though.

Coal India May Invest $1.5 Billion in Overseas Mines

(Bloomberg) -- Coal India Ltd. may invest as much as $1.5 billion to acquire mines overseas to help overcome a shortage of the fuel as the country plans to almost double power generation capacity by 2012.

The state monopoly is seeking mines in Australia, South Africa, the U.S., Indonesia and Mozambique with an annual capacity of 10 million to 15 million metric tons, Chairman Partha S. Bhattacharyya told reporters in New Delhi today.

Cameco raises $500m as S&P reinforces miner's ‘strong position' in global uranium market

RENO, NV - As mega uranium miner Cameco announced Wednesday it had entered into an agreement with a syndicate of underwriters, who have agreed to purchase US$500 million in 5.67% senior unsecured debentures, Standard & Poor's praised Cameco's strong position in the global uranium market, solid cost profile, and moderate financial policies.

Cameco said the close of the offering with the syndicate lead by RBC Capital Markets and Scotia Capital is expected to provide the world's largest publicly traded uranium miner with net proceeds of US$496 million. The company plans to use the offering to refinance existing debt and for general corporate purposes.

Nuclear in the UK – where did it go wrong?

If we consider the four largest European Union countries, each has a very different nuclear situation. France has a strong programme and the highest nuclear share of electricity in the world, maintained over the long run by excellent government support. Germany has a significant, technically excellent nuclear sector, but all its reactors will be shut down by 2023 unless the nuclear law is changed. Italy has already shut down the few reactors that it built, largely because of the Chernobyl accident in 1986. The United Kingdom is also different, having been an early pioneer of nuclear but one which fell on hard times for a variety of reasons. Having examined nuclear in French last month, it is interesting to contrast a UK programme that could reasonably be described as an excellent case study in how not to ‘do nuclear’.

Caspian oilfield is Big Oil's new energy frontier

KASHAGAN, Kazakhstan (Reuters) - Face wrapped in a thick scarf against clouds of blinding dust, the electrician gazed at a maze of pipes and pumps teeming with 15,000 workers and said his work was like building the Tower of Babel.

He was speaking casually. But for the oil industry Kashagan, the world's biggest discovery since 1968 with reserves locked amid lethal, high-pressure gases beneath the north Caspian Sea, is a challenge of biblical proportions.

Study Warns of ‘Energy Sprawl’

A paper published on Tuesday by the Nature Conservancy predicts that by 2030, energy production in the United States will occupy a land area larger than Minnesota — in large part owing to the pursuit of domestic clean energy.

The authors call it “energy sprawl” — a term meant to draw attention to habitat destruction, and to warn that biofuels in particular will take up substantial amounts of land.

“There’s a good side and a bad side of renewable production,” said Robert McDonald, a Nature Conservancy scientist and one of the authors, in a telephone interview.

Q+A-What are the risks of instability in Yemen?

(Reuters) - Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, is combating a reignited Shi'ite revolt in the north, separatist unrest in the south and intensified al Qaeda militancy.

Oil output is dwindling and water resources are being depleted. The global economic downturn has limited the ability of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's government to cope with high unemployment, runaway population growth and widespread poverty.

If Yemen tipped further into instability, or even state failure, this could endanger its neighbours, especially Saudi Arabia, and complicate efforts to fight al Qaeda and protect international shipping routes from piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

Western alarm is growing.

Oil Falls a Third Day After Unexpected Increase in U.S. Supply

(Bloomberg) -- Crude oil declined for a third day after a report showed that inventories unexpectedly rose last week in the U.S., the world’s largest energy user.

Oil traded below $72 a barrel after the Energy Department said yesterday that crude stockpiles rose 128,000 barrels last week, compared with forecasts for a 1.15 million-barrel reduction. The increase in supplies was still lower than that reported the previous day by the American Petroleum Institute.

“It was an unexpected build nevertheless, and obviously enough to send crude prices lower,” said Edward Meir, an analyst with MF Global Ltd. in Connecticut. “We could even see further weakness in energy before the current selling runs its course.”

Why You Should Buy Oil

The fact is, China needs -- and is going to need -- a lot of oil. Indeed, according to BP's Statistical Review of World Energy 2009, though global oil consumption was down 0.6% in 2008, oil consumption in China increased 3.3% to nearly 8 million barrels per day.

And while that already accounts for nearly 10% of global oil consumption, China looks like it has a long way to go. That's because while it has four times the population of the United States, it today consumes less than half the amount of oil. Should China someday consume the same amount of oil per capita as the United States, we are going to see skyrocketing prices and a significant global supply squeeze.

New CFTC report may raise transparency, questions

NEW YORK (Reuters) - More transparency or too much information?

Energy traders, analysts and mom-and-pop farmers may find themselves swimming in detail on the big bets and hedges in the commodity markets, when the U.S. futures market regulator overhauls its widely-watched report on trader positions.

To help level the playing field between funds, commercial players and smaller participants, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission will break down positions by producers, merchants, swap dealers and hedge funds in its Commitments of Traders report, released every Friday afternoon.

Oil’s Long-Term Premium to Fade as Supplies Fall, Merrill Says

(Bloomberg) -- The price difference between short and long-term oil futures, which drove investment banks and oil companies to hoard crude on board tankers, will narrow further as inventories in developed economies shrink, Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch unit said.

In January the amount of oil stored at sea climbed to the most in at least two decades as traders profited from a so- called contango structure where future prices are higher than those for contracts closer to delivery. The spread between front-month futures and those for delivery in a year has since declined 73 percent.

“We expect a modest seasonal draw in total crude oil and petroleum inventories” in developed nations during the fourth quarter, Francisco Blanch, Merrill’s head of commodities research, said in a report dated Aug. 26. “The term structure of crude oil prices should flatten further over the next few months.”

Oil May Reach $90 as Trend Remains Upward: Technical Analysis

(Bloomberg) -- Crude oil is likely to approach $90 a barrel if it remains above a $68 support level, according to technical analysts at WJB Capital Group.

Indonesia warns Exxon on failing Cepu oil output

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia's oil watchdog, BPMIGAS, said on Thursday it may bring U.S. oil major Exxon Mobil to arbitration court if the firm fails to produce 15,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil from the Cepu block by the end of August.

Petrobras May Get 100 Billion-Real Capital Boost, Valor Says

(Bloomberg) -- Petroleo Brasileiro SA, Brazil’s state-controlled oil company, may get an injection of capital from Brazil’s government of as much as 100 billion reais ($54 billion), Valor Economico reported, without saying where it got the information.

The funds would boost the government’s voting stake in Petrobras, as the Rio de Janeiro-based company is known, to as much as 70 percent from 55.7 percent, Valor said.

Shell turns on Utorogu taps

Anglo-Dutch supermajor Shell has resumed operations at the Utorogu gas plant in Nigeria's southern Niger Delta.

A company spokesman said the plant had restarted after repairs - needed after a pipeline attack - were carried out.

Glencore Sees Signs of Upturn After Profit Drops 57%

The company, which is owned by its employees, trades oil, metals and agricultural commodities and controls mines and smelters on five continents. Glencore stopped output at its Iscaycruz zinc mine in Peru in March and temporarily suspended lead production at the Portovesme smelter in Italy in June following the plunge in metal prices in the second half of 2008.

“Commodity prices have definitely hit their bottoms and the company’s trading operations help them benefit more quickly from that pickup in price,” said Jonathan Pitkanen, a credit analyst at Aviva Investors in London.

Thailand: Minister warns of oil price rises

Oil prices could soar again to crisis levels as the global economy recovers from the slump and demand increases for the diminishing reserves of fossil fuels, Energy Minister Wannarat Charnukul warned on Thursday afternoon.

Mr Wannarat said crude oil reserves were being depleted and could run out in 30-40 years, while natural gas reserves would last only 60-70 years and coal supplies only an estimated 147 years.

China's fuel oil futures world's No. 3

In terms of total transaction value in the first half of 2009, China's fuel oil futures are now the world's third largest energy futures, after NYMEX WTI Crude oil futures and London Brent oil futures traded on the Intercontinental Exchange, said Yang Maijun, president of Shanghai Futures Exchange (SHFE), on August 26.

Statistics showed that by August 25, trading of the fuel oil futures this year has reached 21 tons, or 6.8 trillion yuan.

Cities turn off streetlights to save money

The old-fashioned streetlight is the recession's latest victim. To save money, some cities and towns are turning off lights, often lots of them.

The cost-cutting moves coincide with changing attitudes about streetlights. Once viewed as helpful safety measures, the lights are increasingly seen by some public officials and researchers as an environmental issue, creating light pollution and burning excess energy.

The Age of Centralization

Here, then, we can find the economic support for the excess of centralization that must otherwise collapse the societies that it plagues: the extraordinary profits from oil have paid for the hypertrophic governments that afflict us. All of the uneconomic activities of the US Federal Government and its economic distortions could be borne as the wealth increased. Indeed, governments know that their uneconomic behavior needs SOME external input to support the system, and the militaries of many nations have launched invasions seeking control of oil, including Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany; oil lifting costs of $1.50 a barrel in Iraq certainly did not deter the US invasion in 2003, an invasion originally to be paid for from Iraqi oil revenues.

The bonanza from oil, however, is at an end. Sometime between 2005 and 2008 the world produced more oil in one day than ever before, which total was not matched afterwards; this is the concept of peak oil. The oil that remains is less easily produced, and the EROEI is much lower; thus, the subsidy to uneconomic ways of living must be reduced. This is particularly threatening to the Federal Government, which thrashes about, attempting to continue the status quo. It will likely seize larger quantities of wealth from an economy in shock from declining energy inputs, faster collapsing the ability of the economy to support it. As Herbert Stein said, "Things that cannot go on, don’t." The era of centralization is fast ending.

Apocalypse 2012

The 2012 movement would be easy to dismiss as pseudo-mystical mumbo jumbo if it weren’t for the disturbing real-world trends that inform the less fanciful predictions of bad times ahead: catastrophic climate change, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, financial collapse, swine flu, peak oil, peak food. This is the everyday fodder of CNN and Newsweek, not science fiction or religious fantasy. Home prices have declined almost 33 percent since their peak in 2006, and the unemployment rate in America is the worst it has been since 1983. When you add the specter of nuclear-armed religious fanatics, who wouldn’t be a bit anxious about what’s coming down the cosmic sewer pipe?

Even before the current economic crisis, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 made clear to many Americans that civilization can sometimes hang by the barest of threads. Those doomsday cultists stocking up on guns and groceries in preparation for the end-times don’t seem quite so silly after what happened in New Orleans. As we watched bloated bodies float down the streets of a major American city and witnessed the complete paralysis of all layers of government, who among us didn’t think, What would I do in such a situation? Would I have the skills and fortitude to survive?

Meeting oil demand a trickly affair

To say we have overused oil would be a gross understatement. To say we needed to do so for the benefit of humankind would be an exaggerated overstatement. It took us just one and half century to (almost) exhaust what nature took millions of years to create. We knew long ago that oil contained 83-86 percent carbon yet we continued using it at random, as if there was no end to it. Even when we know almost nothing in this modern world is produced without energy - mostly bad energy as in fossil fuel - we continue not only to overuse everything at our disposal, but also to waste them.

Utility wants to deploy largest grid battery ever

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Southern California Edison said on Wednesday it is seeking a U.S. grant to store wind power in the largest-ever grid storage battery, to be built by A123 Systems.

The utility, a unit of Edison International, wants $65 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Energy for the pilot storage project and for another project involving integration of home energy management systems into the electric grid.

Plug-in Fisker Karma car is stylishly environmental

MONTEREY, Calif. — Even as Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Rolls-Royces prowled the avenue, the obscure silver sedan parked at the curb gathered its share of stares and curiosity.

The Fisker Karma, as it is called, has looks that rival a Mercedes-Benz roadster. Yet the key to what makes it different is emblazoned on the sides in chrome letters: Plug-in Hybrid.

EEStor Awards Contract to Polarity Inc. to Produce EESU's Voltage Converter

EEStor is the Texas-based company secretly developing an ultrahigh energy density, ultra-low cost, ultra-long -life new energy storage material that in theory would antiquate lithium-ion batteries overnight.

Not unexpectedly there is much hype, excitement and intrigue surrounding the company's 10 year private voyage towards unveiling an actual working prototype.

Reportedly they are nearing that climactic day and have publicity stated they will prove their technology to the world by the end of September, slightly more than one month from now.

Forth Ports to Put Biomass Plants in Scottish Ports

(Bloomberg) -- Forth Ports Plc, the U.K.’s last publicly traded port operator, plans to build four 100-megawatt biomass plants in Scotland costing as much as 1.2 billion pounds ($1.9 billion) in a venture with Scottish & Southern Energy Plc.

Forth intends to build the plants, to be fueled by wood pellets and forestry waste, at its ports in Dundee, Leith, Grangemouth and Rosyth, Chief Executive Officer Charles Hammond said. “This is purely a commercial venture,” he said, citing Forth Port’s expertise in handling materials and Scottish & Southern’s skills in connecting to the national electric grid.

Argentina Is Shipping More Biodiesel to Europe, Biopetrol Says

(Bloomberg) -- Biopetrol Industries AG, a Swiss biodiesel producer, said imports of the fuel from Argentina are growing because of lower export taxes on the fuel relative to one of its feedstocks.

“Increasing amounts of indirectly subsidized biodiesel have been coming to Europe from Argentina since the second quarter,” the Zug, Switzerland-based company said today in an e-mailed statement.

Celebrating the birth of the solar cell

I came across the following unbylined news story from our June 1954 issue which I thought solarheads would enjoy. Not only does it recount the invention of the photovoltaic cell at Bell Labs, it provides one of the most elegant explanations I've seen of how the device works, though the predictions about its limited usefulness are charmingly dated. A brief excerpt from this story also appeared in the 50, 100 and 150 Years Ago column of our June 2004 issue.

A crucial climate vote lost with Ted Kennedy's death

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's environmental legacy was remarkable, wide-ranging, and not all roses. Joe Romm's got an early look at his record.

But there's one clear and simple impact of Kennedy's death late Tuesday night: The push for a climate-change bill in the Senate lost a reliable supporter.

Arctic Shipping: Stormy seas or smooth sailing

Climate change is altering these Arctic rhythms of life and culture.

Year-round sea ice is fast disappearing; this once permanent ice pack has thinned over two feet in the last four years. In the same period, 595,000 square miles of ice, an area about the size of Alaska, have vanished. The Arctic seems destined to resemble the Great Lakes—frozen in winter and completely open in summer. Scientists predict climate change will also bring more extreme weather and greater storm intensity to Arctic seas.

Heading into these increasingly ice-free and turbulent seas is an unprecedented wave of new ship traffic, including cruise ships; oil, gas and mining vessels; and commercial, research and fishing boats. Global shipping companies are mapping routes that will shave days off voyages that previously passed through the Panama Canal or around Cape Horn.

Methane seepage heightens pressure for climate treaty

Evidence that methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas, is escaping from the warming Arctic seabed makes securing a new international agreement to slash global-warming gas emissions even more urgent, scientists warn.

Cepu, which ranks among the U.S. major's top 10 projects worldwide, is expected to produce 165,000 bpd when it reaches peak output in 2012

Well, to my mind this just about sums it up. Let me get this straight: Exxon Mobil is developing a new field, Cepu. This new field is ranked in the 'top ten projects worldwide'. And how much will it be pruducing at peak? Yup, a measly 165,000 bpd. So where exctly are the super-giants of the future? You know, the ones which give the cornucopians the right to insist in BAU and perpetual growth? If this field ranks in the top ten of Exxon's development portfolio then what do their second largest ten developments look like?

No wonder really that we are only finding one third of what we are consuming.

It's the little tid-bits of information like this, which when woven together, makes the case for PO irrefutable.

EDIT: and having just reviewed the Reuters article about the Kashgan field in the Caspian we get the following evidence:

...Kashagan, the world's biggest discovery since 1968 with reserves locked amid lethal, high-pressure gases beneath the north Caspian Sea, is a challenge of biblical proportions...


The field's difficult geology, remote location, harsh climate and environmental challenges make it one of the world's most complex and, at $136 billion so far, expensive energy projects


With an estimated 9 billion barrels of recoverable oil in the Central Asian state of Kazakhstan, Kashagan is, like the tower in the Bible story, an almighty undertaking


Once at full capacity, Kashagan will produce 1.5 million barrels of oil per day

So, this is the world largest discovery since 1968. It has cost $136,000,000,000 so far because it is a 'challenge of biblical proportions' and has not yet produced a single drop of black gold. The total amount estimated to be recoverable is some 9 billion barrels - hardly a lot in global perspective (four months of total world consumption), the oil is highly sulphurous and when at maximum production (whenever that is) it will produce only 1.5 million barrels. But don't worry, it is the world's largest find since 1968!

Oh boy.

FURTHER EDIT: I have just realised that perhaps a simple calculation is in order:

Total cost of developing field so far = $136,000,000,000 divided by
total estimated recoverable reserves of 9,000,000,000 barrels

gives a dollar figure of developing each barrel of $15
So, before the final cost of developing the field is in, not factoring in on-going costs, pipeline costs, refining costs, shipping costs etc etc etc the cost attributed to each barrel is already MORE than the price of crude ten years ago.

Oh boy.

Does anyone have a guess at the break-even price from this field once oil is online?

I believe that the Cornucopians could be correct, if current trends continue. That is, an exponentially increasingly large fraction of the human population will be rendered invisible (by a compliant media, by the natural tendency of the "haves" to UNSEE the "have nots", by governments erecting "protective" walls, by the natural tendency of the utterly destitute to hide themselves in shame, and so on).

With modern technology and psychological techniques cooperating with human nature, this giant UNSEEN population will not become violent, and will be dealt with either naturally or technologically -- by epidemic disease, fertility control, etc. There won't need to be any mass executions in the manner of previous genocides, and the vast majority of the "haves" won't need to bother their heads at all about how it happened, so there won't be any moral outrage. Manipulation of public shame and outrage is a mature science -- contrast the public response to Cindy Sheehan on Martha's Vinyard and at Crawford Texas. These techniques work everywhere.

In any event, a suitably shrunken human population will find plenty of resources -- 165,000 bpd may actually seem like quite a lot then.

Nice bit of bird-dogging!

My armchair estimate for break-even would be $40/bbl. The heavy sulfur and isolated location augurs a significant discount to WTI, so I would say they could sell for $50/bbl. But there is a lot of upside there, as many exporters are asking higher prices for heavy crude. Indications so far are that they aren't getting many takers, but that could change as light sweet depletion continues.

With these trends in place, Kashagan will keep on keepin' on.

I don't know what you are putting in the break-even, but be sure to include something for royalties and/ or interest. $40 barrel sounds pretty optimistic to me. If I had lent $136 billion, I would want more than a simple pay-back of the loan, without interest.

I was thinking of it as a lower bound estimate. Over the production life, interest and depreciation roughly offset but that does not count the interest accruing before a single bbl is produced, so $40/bbl probably is too low.

Another interesting metric is total capital cost divided by estimated sustained peak production, about $90,000 per bpd. This is on par with some of the newer tar sands projects in recent years, which in some cases were north of $100,000 per bpd.

There is a big difference between mining and in situ plants in terms of capital cost. This free CERA report talks about a capital cost of $126,000 barrel for integrated mine and upgrader, and $30,000 per flowing barrel for SAGD (not upgrading) - See page 28 of PDF - Page I-5 of report. These are at peak of cost cycle.

So what would be the capital cost per bpd for SAGD, after the bitumen is upgraded?

At this point, upgrading it isn't happening to SAGD produced bitumen. SAGD operations are tiny compared to mines. You couldn't put in a SAGD sized upgrader, I don't think (and besides, when the SAGD operation picks up its portable equipment and moves on in a few years to a new location, you couldn't pull up the upgrader and move).

The problem is that you need a diluent to get the bitumen to flow anywhere from the SAGD operation in a pipeline, so that is what is happening now.

CN railroad is working on rail transport for bitumen. There seems to be some possibility of heating the rail cars, to get around the need for diluent. See the discussion near the end of my Canadian OIl Sands-Part 1 post.

I just calculated the cost per bpd of Iraqi oil production to be $371,250 per bpd.

But I only counted the military expenditures. I could calculate a bpd amount per dead and wounded but the government tells me they don't keep track of "collateral damage"

You know, the ones which give the cornucopians the right to insist in BAU and perpetual growth?

By cornucopian I assume you mean anyone that doesn't think that the industrial/modern world has to end this or next decade?

If so, that seems a little unfair, at least in terms of the debate going on at this website. The people claiming plenty of oil are generally 1) an ignorant portion of the public that has no idea what it is talking about 2) the McPalins wanting to get elected by that public 3) people pretending to be experts while simultaneously quoting Deuteronomy 28 from the Bible as proof that the Lord will provide endless oil via his magnificent bounty.

But true experts that don't adhere to Olduvai/Malthus/whatever theory still take Peak Oil (and sometimes even Limits to Growth) seriously. They are discussing electrification, substitution, efficiency, conservation, nuclear vs. renewables, city planning, how long will coal and natural gas last?, etc... They are not talking about the six Saudi Arabias lurking around the corner.

My longwinded point is that the real debate, outside of the "Drill, Baby, Drill" propaganda which is just politics and not policy, has already moved past light sweet crude.

Indeed Andrew, I think you make my point. When I say BAU I mean the 'U' bit to mean exactly what we are doing now: filling up the SUV with pocket change, using 10 calories of H-carbons to get 1 calorie of food, buying said food in non-recyclable plastic containers and just chucking it away.

I'm fully with you and have moved past the light sweet crude part of the debate.

But the overall problem isn't just about oil. Nearly all mineral resources have similar production constraints in that those with the highest concentrations are used first and the other less concentrated ones require more energy (and money) to produce. Thus, as the sources of cheap energy are depleted and the relative price increases, the cost of those other mineral resources, such as copper and aluminum, will increase at a faster pace.

I think the point is that the Cornucopians don't understand the implications of this reality. There are folks who have proposed technical solutions as you point out, but apparently don't consider fully the whole problem, therefore they remain optimistic and aren't willing to make the massive changes in direction which would be required to keep things going at even a 1940 level of industrial production per capita, let alone support a growing population base, once the cheap energy is gone.

E. Swanson

Does anyone have a guess at the break-even price from this field once oil is online?

$147.00 a barrel? ;-)

This is off-topic but I couldn't resist

"Last summer, just as he was dealing with the first rumblings of the financial crisis on Wall Street, Bernanke learned that a thief had swiped his wife's purse—including the couple's joint check book. Days later, someone started cashing checks on the Bernanke family bank account"


Not to worry, Dr. Bernanke.

As you know, the checks are drawn on the U.S. Treasury

Working with primarily Progressive Democrats and having recently attended Netroots Nation 2009 I am glad to see that entropy article. People just don't get it and that pretty much lays it out - we'd have needed to pin our expectations at a 1940 standard of living and worked like demons to build the renewable infrastructure to make it sustainable. We did not.

Hey, I went to Pittsburgh too. Guess there weren't enough of us for a TOD caucus. Greer certainly nails it in his essay. If you want to plan anything for NN10, my email's in my dkos profile.

The Chinese Recovery is Phoney

Art Cashin's Trader's Edge CNBC Video

Art Cashen, this morning on CNBC, says he is selling stock. He says that, "Some of the data, when you drill down into it, isn't quite what it seems." But the best part of this video is about China. He says, "They count as sales, shipments rather than actual sales, and to do that they, according to the AEI piece, they sent several thoushad washing machines to villages and homes that have neither running water nor electricity. And they didn't even pay for them they gave them to them basically for free but they were included as sales so I think you want to be a little careful with some of the data coming out of China."

I news.googled the AEI report he speaks of and found it but it was behind a pay wall.

Ron P.


Absolutely. The Chinese stimulus has been unprecedented.
Read this from Sprott Asset Management in Toronto:

..the Chinese have injected a stimulus equivalent to 64% of their first
half 2008 GDP in the first half of 2009. Please understand us when we tell you that this is
unprecedented. The Chinese government has effectively spent and lent enough in six
months to buy 122 Ford Class aircraft carriers at US$8.1 billion a piece. It is akin to the US
government injecting (and US banks lending) almost $4.5 trillion USD to its citizens and
businesses before July 2009…an ungodly sum that would impact every asset class under
the sun. Is it any wonder then that the Shanghai stock exchange has more than doubled
from trough to peak since its November lows?

source: http://www.sprott.com/Docs/MarketsataGlance/August_2009.pdf

The reports from Sprott are always very intelligent and well worth following.

So where is all this stimulus money coming from?

Oh yeah, the US Taxpayer. The money we have to spend to pay off our debts goes to help the Chinese recovery.

Sorry to burst your bubble but the US Taxpayer is not even close to being in the same solar system to paying off the US debt. Interest, maybe, but this is just printed up.

Are you kidding? We are not paying off our debts so the Chinese government is getting nothing from the US taxpayers via that route. We are going deeper in debt to the Chinese, not less.

The Chinese stimulus: where does the money come from?

The source of the new funding is also unclear. A leading Chinese academic in Beijing suggested that only a quarter of the investment might actually come from direct public spending, with the rest coming from state-owned enterprises and banks. As part of the fiscal stimulus announcement, the government confirmed that quotas on new bank credit had been lifted and that banks would be encouraged to lend to small companies, rural areas and industries that were consolidating or investing in technology.

1.Printing money: The Chinese authorities can expand credit by printing money. This can have inflationary tendencies, depending on how large the output gap is.

2.Selling dollar-denominated assets: Last year, China has set aside $300 bn for investment purposes, out of dollar reserves which are close to $1.8 trn now. China would be able to sell those assets, or the dollar reserves, and use the money to pay for the fiscal stimulus.

Except for redemptions the Chinese are not selling those dollar-denominated assets to the US. They are selling them on the open market, which is significant.

Ron P.

Oil's 150th Birthday

I take a strong objection to these postings!
Drake was a year late.

Oil Springs,Ont, CANADA Beat Drake By A Year!

1st commercial oil well in North America drilled in 1858 by James Williams in Oil Springs,Ont Canada.This town still stands and spawned a whole industry in nearby Sarnia,Ont(chemical alley).Imperial Oil,Suncor,Dow,Union Carbide,Nova,Shell, Bayer,Cabot, Ethyl have plants there.

C'mon. We got nuttin' left here. We used to be first at everything. Now, nothing. Let us at least keep that! Sheesh. In other words, shush.

Besides, wouldn't that mean peak comes a year sooner?


Not only that, he seems to have had the first oil company. It seems a strange area for an oil deposit which produced billions of barrels over a century of production. Not long after, the refining of naptha - diesel fuel - was first done at Sarnia, as I recall.

Dubious distinction though.

And don't be remiss to note that NBA champions are World Champions, and Superbowl winners are World champions, and World Series winners are World Champions, ... see a theme evolving here?

As much as I like to watch NFL, I grate my molars every time some sports announcer describes a team as World Champions. Canada and the U.S. were dominant in hockey and basketball (another Canadian invention BTW) until we had our hat handed to us by improved international competition.

It may appear touchy, but we get annoyed when Drake is referred to as the first commercial oil well - and that goes for you too Kunstler! (I called him on this one a while back).

But we digress.

Digess? Heck, you didn't even mention Captain Kirk, aka William Shatner [CDN], who led the search for a new planet to replace our current one.

John Michael Greer: Entropy gets no respect

Greer lays it out pretty straight in his rant.

I fully agree. This is one of the most eloquent and succinct discussions on peak oil that I have ever read. Forward the link to as many fence-sitters as you can. I love his simple explanation of entropy that even children can understand.

Fellow TOD'ers It's worth the time to read the whole thing.

Ever notice how the sun is disregarded when it comes to EROEI analysis? Makes it seem at first that those who indulge in it don't understand thermodynamics. More energy returned than invested?!?! How can that be? Oh, the sun (along with archaean metabolism & pressure due to gravity) are simply ignored. Okay then. What other inputs are conveniently "externalized" in the same way? Hard to say. Some are recognized but the decision is made to arbitrarily exclude them. Others would be taken into consideration but no one knows how to quantify them. Others are so vague that it isn't certain that they even are inputs. Others aren't even recognized. Of the latter, how important may some be? Who can say?

Because of the above, to my mind, EROEI analysis is completely meaningless.

Come on DD, you know that "others" is meaningless. Thus your conclusion about EROEI is meaningless.

Seriously, I would like to learn from you so please give a few examples from where you draw your conclusion.

Everything from the sunlight that went into the growing of the wheat that went into the bread of the sandwich the truck driver who delivered the casing pipe had for lunch, to the lost ecosystem services of the dozed bare drill pad, to the opportunity costs of the money invested in the play that could have potentially been invested in something more lucrative, to the increased medical costs due to heatstroke in a world overheated by oxidized carbon dumped into the atmosphere... would have to be counted as energy inputs in a full EROEI accounting. When everything is counted there is never more energy returned than was invested. Claiming otherwise demonstrates lack of understanding of the second law. How does one even go about converting some of these inputs into joules or calories? So many factors are summarily & arbitrarily excluded that the entire exercise breaks down into meaninglessness. EROEI analysis is the modern technocopian equivalent of analyzing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Isn't the main point that you don't have to have 100% accuracy for a tool to be useful?

There should be a number of different EROEI models and people should be clear about which they are using. These could be tiered for greater accuracy and inclusion--from EROEI of energy used on site for day-to-day operations, to EROEIs that also include energy of shipping and refining, the energy of building the facilities, the energy of exploration...yes down to the energy of the sandwich the worker ate for lunch.

But getting down to that last level involves relatively minute amounts of energy and deals with things the worker would be doing anyway, presumably, so the usefulness of such calculations would be deminishingly small.

The irony in all this is that the end use of much of the oil is an astonishingly inefficient construction--the modern car. As I recall, it is only a few percent of the energy in the gasoline that goes into the car that actually moves the person from point a to point b. The rest is lost in various mechanical inefficiencies and in transporting the enormous hunk of metal the passenger is encased in.


...you don't have to have 100% accuracy for a tool to be useful?

True enough. But a tool isn't very useful at all if it has little or no accuracy. How do you value ecosystem services that may be lost due to the consequences of oxidizing fossil carbon? They could very well be priceless. If the inputs are priceless, or infinite, then of what value is the output? Zilch? Negative infinity? If an accident on the well site results in the death of a worker, of what value, then, is the product to him? If the consequences of oxidizing fossil carbon leads to massive overshoot of the carrying capacity of the biosphere and consequent population collapse to extinction, of what value, then, has the fossil fuel bubble been to humanity?

EROEI is great for measuring what it does: the ratio between the usable energy inputs and outputs of a process that has an energy product as it's output.

It is not supposed to do what you fault it for not doing.

EROEI does not measure ecosystem services. It does not measure workplace hazards. It does not measure population stress on the environment.

If you want to measure those things, then it is indeed useless. Like using a yardstick to find your position at sea.

On the other hand, if what you want to measure is the dimensions of a room so you can order carpeting for it, a yardstick is more than good enough.

Thank you:

So as I take it, you mean that since all of the energy inputs cannot be quantified, then the ratio of energy out to energy in cannot be computated. In fact all of the energy out cannot be quantified either because (for example)if the oil comes out of the ground at a higher or lower temperature those calories are not counted either.

It seems the whole world and all of its derivatives cannot be exactly quantified so we must not relate to any of these things. When I dreamed I was a butterfly who dreamed he was a man and I woke up and floated away on rising currents of unquantifiable air ... cool. Thanks again.

So as I take it, you mean that since all of the energy inputs cannot be quantified, then the ratio of energy out to energy in cannot be computated.


Your second sentence is nonsensical.

What other inputs are conveniently "externalized" in the same way? Hard to say. Some are recognized but the decision is made to arbitrarily exclude them.

Arbitrarily? Is that really so? It seems you go on to list several reasons why some inputs might not be included, and none of those is arbitrary.

1) Too hard to quantify at the moment.
2) Uncertainty about the effect
3) Failure of imagination

Those may make EROEI imprecise, but those do not necessarily damn it to meaninglessness.

Please illustrate how an EROEI comparison of Biodiesel from rapeseed and Bioethanol from corn would have to be so incomplete that it would be rendered meaningless.

Because of the above, to my mind, EROEI analysis is completely meaningless.

You are off base here DD because you fail to understand the second "E" in the equation. The energy invested is not energy from the sun. It is the energy required in mining, manufacturing, installation and human energy required to do all this, or really what you must pay all those humans. It would better be expressed as "Energy returned on investment" but basically it means the same thing.

Far from being meaningless, EROEI is paramount because if it cost more to produce the energy than the energy you get out of the system, it is an energy sink rther than an energy producer. I know, you can never really produce energy any more than you can produce oil but you get the point.

If some deep sea oil cost $80 a barrel to produce then oil must be $80 a barrel just to break even EROEI wise. Ditto with windmills or solar panels. And if you are getting anything less than your cost then you are going in the hole and will soon be out of business.

It is a little like buying watermelons for $2 each and selling them for $1 each. Your EROEI, not counting other losses, is already down to .5 to 1. Now tell me that is meaningless.

Ron P.

I would prefer to let prices of inputs substitute for EROEI analysis. If something has an EROEI less than one, then the cost of the energy is (imperfectly) reflected in the price of the inputs. As long as the embedded energy in the input streams isn't really grossly underpriced, price should be a reasonable quide as to what is or isn't worth pursuing. Of course and subsidies should be factored in as well. Of course when we are blue-skying about a proposed future source -say ethanol from growing and distilling Russian thistles EROEI is a useful concept to make a back of the envelope check to if the proposal has any chance of making sense.

The energy invested is not energy from the sun. It is the energy required in mining, manufacturing, installation and human energy required to do all this, or really what you must pay all those humans.

You know very well, Ron, where the energy "invested" in the reduced hydrocarbon bond comes from. When a photon of a certain wavelength strikes a pigment in the thylacoid membrane an electron is excited to an outer energy shell where it is less tightly held electrostatically to the nucleus. This less tightly held electron is then passed down an electron transport chain, alternately reducing & oxidizing the carriers until ultimately, glucose is synthesized from CO2 & water. This reduced carbon eventually ends up as a fossil hydrocarbon that the clever ape has learned to pump out of the ground & oxidize, releasing a portion of the energy that ultimately came from the sun.

Now, if it is an agreed upon arbitrary convention to ignore the role of the sun in this process, so be it. But that's all it is: an agreed upon arbitrary convention. When I first came to TOD I did not know that this arbitrary convention had been agreed upon. When I first saw Nate, and others, discussing EROEIs of 100:1 or 10:1 or whatever, I thought that they were ignorant. I thought that they didn't understand the second law. When it was explained to me that it had been agreed upon to discount the sun, it made a little more sense to me, but I still thought that the whole exercise was futile because the sun was by no means the only input being ignored. Since many of these inputs are at best poorly amenable to quantification and at worse wholly unknown, I still think that EROEI analysis is futile and essentially meaningless. I hope that we understand each other.

You know very well, Ron, where the energy "invested" in the reduced hydrocarbon bond comes from. When a photon of a certain wavelength strikes a pigment in the thylacoid membrane an electron is excited to an outer energy shell where it is less tightly held electrostatically to the nucleus.

No, no, no, no, no! We are not talking about the energy invested by God, or by the sun, or by the wind, we are talking about the energy invested by man or by people if you choose to be politically correct. Of course we all know that all energy, except geothermal energy*, comes from the sun.

Nate and everyone else here understands the laws of thermodynamics. But if you are buying watermelons for $2 each and selling them for $1 each then you are not concerned with thermodynamics. You are only concerned with whether your little venture will make a profit or not.

I have bitched from day one, on this list, that the term ERoEI confuses people. And it has, it has confused you that is for sure. The way to understand it is to just drop both "Es". Just use ROI. If it takes $80 to produce oil from the very deep sea and oil is selling, long term, for $75 and below, then there will be little or no oil from the deep sea. That is the easy part to understand. The hard part, the part that confuses most people, is that even if you make $10 a barrel on $80 oil, selling it at $90 a barrel, you are gaining very little because the about 1.1 to 1 ERoEI. This means that 90 million barrels produced equals only 10 million barrels because 80 million barrels is consumed in production.

Now it may not seem apparent that it takes 80 million barrels to produce 90 million barrels because the consumption is not direct. But in the end that's what it works out to be because the value of 80 million barrels of oil is used up in the production 90 million barrels of oil so only 10 million barrels is left for the production of other things.

*Geothermal energy comes from past exploded suns, that is from heat from the decay of radioactive materal deep inside the earth, created by the explosion of supernovas. But that also has nothing to do with how we use the term ERoEI.

Ron P.

..the term ERoEI confuses people. And it has, it has confused you that is for sure.

It confused me at first but no longer does. I'm just pointing out that the decision to limit consideration to energy invested by man, or by people, is an arbitrary decision and that even if we agree on this limitation we still can't quantify all those investments or inputs. Since we can't quantify them the outcome is qualitative not quantitative, and thereby of little or no value for judging whether an endeavor is worthwhile.

An arbitrary decision? No, it was not arbitrary at all. Using energy invested by God, or by nature, makes no sense at all because the result tells you nothing usful.

And it is my opinion that you still do not understand ERoEI. Please, just drop both Es and it becomes much easier to understand. Do you get more back than you invested. You are trying to figure out how much energy was invested and you are correct, there is no way to know that. But energy here is turned into money at $72.49 a barrel. (Today's closing price.) And if it cost producers more than $72.49 a barrel to produce the oil, then the oil they produced has a negative ERoEI. Which means they are losing money and soon must cease oil production unless their ERoEI improves
They know what they get for a barrel of oil and they also know (approximately) what it cost them to produce that barrel of oil and therefore they know what their ERoEI really is. Not knowing that would be one foolish way to run a business. I would definitely say it is a worthwhile endeavor.

But the big debate here on TOD is that as the ERoEI gets smaller the less oil there is actually to fuel the economy. That is the important point. At an ERoEI of 100 to 1 then 99 barrels out of every 100 is available to fuel the economy. But if the ERoEI is only 10 to 9 then only 10 barrels out of every 100 is available to fuel the economy. If we produced 100 million bp/d at that ERoEI then it would be really like producing only 10 mb/d because that would be what would be left to fuel the economy. All the rest would be used by the oil producers in order to produce the oil. And that DD is why we discuss the subject here at all.

Ron P.

I agree with your last paragraph, but your claim that ROI$ is a better metric than EROEI misses some basic points. ROI$ is a snapshot estimate and mixes many different energy sources at today's market values. But, we've already seen large swings in market prices over the last few years and they are still going on.

Both ROI$ and EROEI compile the various amounts of energy expended, but ROI will change as the market prices for the various inputs change. ROI$ analysis mixes the prices of apples, oranges, soybeans and corn (so to speak) together to produce a "cost", ignoring the fact that the prices of all those commodities change on a daily basis and we have no way to know which way those prices will go in future. With EROEI, the fact that the ratios of the various energy sources are interchangeable means that EROEI is likely to remain relative invariable over time, with most variations being the result of changes in technology. The difficulty with EROEI analysis is that calculating a value for a process becomes quite complicated.

Think of it this way. A nuclear power plant today is estimated to cost perhaps 5 times more than the same one built in the 1970's. Yet, the energy produced by those older nukes is still priced in the market using the dollar basis from the 1970's, so today's input to a ROI$ calculation using nuke generated electric prices is going to be low. The EROEI would likely not have changed much over that period. Which would be a better metric for discussions about our options for the future?

E. Swanson

Distance. Consider the difference of the U.S. importing 1.5 mbd from Mexico or from Africa. Or more oil from some deep sea fields from Brazil. More gas from shale, less conventional gas. Why so many words for something simple like EROEI.

I will not go as far as dd in saying that EROEI is meaningless. It is valid in the case where the input and the output are the same as in drilling for oil where oil is the main energy input. In such an instance energy is defined as oil, and EROEI is valid. But what is the point? If the input and the output are the same and there is an established market price, the results of $RO$I should be the same as EROEI.

In all other cases where the input forms of energy are different from the output form of energy, EROEI is invalid and tells us nothing. I have repeatedly pointed out that energy is an abstraction. It is the name we give to various forms of energy and there are many with widely varying characteristics such as renewability, utility, price, and availability. It may make sense to take cheap natural gas and produce electricity for example even though the EROEI is less than 1. This is because the electricity has higher utility and price than natural gas. This is a case where EROEI tells us nothing and is in fact meaningless as darwinsdog points out.

EROEI across different forms of energy is fallacious because it is in effect comparing things that are different. One can not add things that are different even if they are in the same abstract group. For example, one can not add 50 bushels of corn and 50 bushels of beans even though they are both grains and the total of 100 bushels of grain is accurate. Nor can one add 1 ton of gold and one ton of iron even though the result of 2 tons of metal is accurate.

The numbers may be accurate but the logic is false. When forms of an abstraction are added the result tells us nothing if the forms are different. It only confuses. This is what is going on with EROEI when it is used to evaluate different forms of energy. For an argument to be true both the arithmetic and the logic must be true. Arguments can be mathematically true and logically false.

EROEI when the input form is different from the output form is false
and meaningless as darwinsdog correctly points out.

Another thought:

..if you are buying watermelons for $2 each and selling them for $1 each then you are not concerned with thermodynamics.

It seems to me that ignoring the input of solar energy in EROEI analysis is like thinking that watermelons can be grown in the dark. See ya tomorrow... ;)

I don't understand why the Sun has any energy invested. If we had to build or maintain the sun, we should include it in EROEI analysis, but God did it for us.

..God did it for us.

Oh, okay. I guess that God can be safely ignored. But the sun, now, it still amazes me that people have decided to simply leave its input out of the equation. Maybe there's some satisfaction to be gained by making it appear that entropy can be reversed, as in getting more energy out of a process than has been put into it. A collective ego boost, perhaps, from fooling ourselves into believing that we, along with God, can say, "Let there be light."

I can't decide if you are just trying to be obtuse, or if you really don't understand that EROEI analysis is being done from the POV of humans. When doing an EROEI analysis of solar panels, we are measuring how much energy we put into them versus how much solar energy they end up harvesting. If we included the sun as EI, solar panels would always have a negative return.

Come to think of it, I can't even figure out if you want the sun as ER or EI or both.

He wants anything that will allow him to throw poo into these conversations.

Suggesting that EROEI is supposed to be a discussion of Pure Thermodynamics of the whole system is his choice to Yell AT the conversation, instead of engage IN it.

Solar Energy does not have to get counted in Solar's EROEI, because we are only counting what WE have to contribute to gain access to that energy.

Ron said it in many ways, in more words.. but DD's all set for cussedness..

thanks for leading with that Greer missive. Occasionally, a review of the basics is refreshing and required. This is one of the best treatments of entropy i have ever read. Have forwarded it to my grandson physics professor among others.

Sort of a 'rock and roll' explanation for the current age to appreciate the gravity of the situation.

"Thermodynamics doesn't give a damn what you think." - quote, me

As soon as I saw that title I knew I was going to enjoy this one. Validation is nice once in a while.

I'll be interested to hear what your grandson says. Potential energy is always between two points and is absolutely meaningless if there is no way of getting to the lower point: so choosing the centre of the Earth as that point makes no sense. Also in our world the fact that entropy always increases is almost totally irrelevant because we live on a sustained entropy flow. Low entropy stuff comes in and higher entropy stuff flows out and we exist because of the difference. What is relevant is the rate of entropy production, and our Earth likes to maximize the rate of entropy production. Certainly her invention of life helped speed that up, and her invention of intelligent life sped it up even more. For example there is a lot of low entropy hot rocks down there and we can turn them into high entropy waste heat by installing geothermal energy plants. Indeed it is hard to believe that mother Earth will allow the rate of entropy production to go back down again when there is so much potential for increasing it. Nothing like getting those radioactive atoms closer together to start a chain reaction for increasing entropy...

China’s third-biggest oil company, posted a higher profit than analysts expected and said it will step up exploration and acquisitions to increase reserves and meet demand in the country


Yup. The Chinese are thirsty.

I'd like to revisit a couple of key quotes in the much discussed op-ed by Michael Lynch published August 24, 2009 in the New York Times.
Peak Oil’ Is a Waste of Energy

In the end, perhaps the most misleading claim of the peak-oil advocates is that the earth was endowed with only 2 trillion barrels of “recoverable” oil. Actually, the consensus among geologists is that there are some 10 trillion barrels out there.

I've never heard of this 10 trillion barrel consensus among geologists before. This would mean that we've only discovered 20% of the recoverable oil so far. If the discovery rate follows a bell-shaped curve, there should be a sharp up-turn in discoveries around the 20% level. Now how does this square with peak discovery happening in the 1960s, and today's much lower discoveries?

The latest acorn in the discovery debate is a recent increase in the overall estimated rate at which production is declining in large oil fields. This is assumed to be the result of the “superstraw” technologies that have become dominant over the past decade, which can drain fields faster than ever. True, because quicker extraction causes the fluid pressure in the field to drop rapidly, the wells become less and less productive over time. But this declining return on individual wells doesn’t necessarily mean that whole fields are being cleaned out. As the Saudis have proved in recent years at Ghawar, additional investment — to find new deposits and drill new wells — can keep a field’s overall production from falling.

This certainly isn't true regarding the North Sea, Alaska, Cantarell, etc., and probably Ghawar itself. To prove his point, Michael Lynch would have to come up with data that shows that "additional investment" in the majority of the world's fields sustainably overtakes natural decline.

Regarding the first quote, the issue is "recovery at a cost the economy can afford" or adequate EROI. There is a lot of may potential resources out there - oil, oil sands, shale oil, natural gas, but the question is whether we will sink the rest of the economy if it costs, say $200 barrel to recover them.

I'd really like to see a breakdown on the composition of this 10 trillion barrels of recoverable oil. What fraction of this is conventional, condensate, natural gas liquids, oil sands, oil shale, not-yet-discovered, etc.

He's talking about another 30-40 Saudi Arabia's waiting to be discovered and/or extracted. Where the heck is this oil??

abiota field in the abiota basin, province lala, the planet of doodah.

Titan, which is a bit closer then Doodah but just as inaccessible.

Bumpy Plateau Ends April 2012

The peak year for crude oil was 2005.(EIA) World production will be down 10% from 2005 levels by 2019. Present production is 71.8 mb/d. This level will bump into production constraints in August 2012. If economic recovery begins now and consumption begins to rise, world will hit limits as early as 2010-2011. If demand continues to decline it indicates we have hit above-ground limits. (My reply to Michael Lynch)

What happens in 2012? Oil and gas prices will step up to higher levels. There will be a new wave of foreclosures, bankruptcies, bank failures, and unemployment; and another L-step down.

link: http://tippingpoint-codered.blogspot.com

This is my "middle case", which is quite conservative in decline rates. My "far outer case" delays the end of the plateau until 2013. This makes the error bracket +/- 1 year.
April 2012 is the target date. Jim Blake (CodeRed)

The last article on methane release was the most ominous to me.

One problem I have with reporting on methane as a greenhouse gas is that they always cite the figure "20 times stronger than CO2." But that is over a century, and it is so low because methane only lasts a few years in the atmosphere while CO2 can remain for centuries.

Over the more appropriate timespan of a decade, methane is over 70 times as powerful as CO2. A release of gigatons of seabed methane into the atmosphere is truly frightening.

It represents one, probably the most important, feedback loop that may soon make (or has already made?) gw go into hyper-drive. It is as if human-caused gw was just the trigger that is setting off the gun of runaway gw. And the gun is pointed straight at our heads.

When I read the article about cities cutting out streetlight use to save money and fight light pollution, it occurs to me that these lights are part of the "base load" that electrical power plants generate. There may be savings to some electrical power plants, if they can actually turn some power plants off at night. But just as likely, it seems like it will be just a loss of revenue to them. To make it up, they will have to raise rates elsewhere.

It would be a lot more useful savings to the electric utilities if it were daytime use that were cut back.

Are street light really necessary? The problem with street lights is that they're switched on whether anyone is present or not. It makes more sense for automobiles, cyclist, and pedestrians to rely solely on their own light sources. I've personally never liked street lights -- I really miss not being able to see stars on a clear night in urban areas.

Street lights make a big difference in safety. Car headlights alone are not enough. Especially if pavement markings are not maintained.

I think other factors play a larger role in safety than lighting. I think this is one of those things that makes people feel safe without really increasing it that much. There are certainly communities that have gone without streetlights that are amongst the safest in the country.

Putting motion sensors on the lights would be one way to reduce light without sacrificing much in the way of (even perceived) safety.

A city that stopped all or most night-time lighting would then have that much more available to charge electric cars.

I'm not talking about crime prevention. I'm talking about driving.

I would say about 90% of all streetlights are unnecessary for driving safety. I had the opportunity a few years back to fly passenger in a small plane late at night, 2-5AM. There was a low ceiling so we were flying lower than one normally would, in fact so low all 3 of us were actively watching for radio towers. What was so striking was the number of brightly lit totally empty parking lots that existed. Many were malls, shopping centers, car lots etc. But there was a lot of large empty parking lots, not near any towns, that to this day I can't explain why so many. This was from South Carolina to Florida.

Turning off all this wasted electric will go a long way towards recharging plug in vehicles.

Those aren't really street lights. It's the mall owners who put those up, not the city or town.

I have owl eyes and the intensity of the street lights kills my eyes. At intersections I often can't see past the end of the light - so the intersection itself I can see, but beyond it is impenetrable darkness. I often have moments of disorientation after coming through a lit intersection as the retina burn settles and have nearly hit a cyclist (sans blinky) because of it. On the other hand I have come across some wickedly convoluted highway interchanges where a series of onramps, offramps and local roads converge and have been helped greatly by lower intensity broad-area lighting that allowed me to see the layout and all of the barriers to be avoided. Overall most street lights that I've come across have been much too bright, with enough light to read a book under, and it keeps you from seeing beyond their boundry. In terms of safety from other people, they'd have a dandy time sneaking up on you in the darkness and plenty of good light to make sure they rob you fully.

I like bright light at intersections, just so I can read the street signs. If you're a stranger in town, you need to be able to read the signs.

Of course signing design can make a big difference. Currently, there's a lot of money being spent upgrading signs. Making them larger, brighter, etc. With age comes poorer night vision, and with the boomers hitting their '50s and '60s, it's going to be more and more of a problem.

Illuminating the sign instead of the intersection would make more sense. Make the sign glow with red and it won't even quench night vision much.

I'm not talking about crime prevention. I'm talking about driving.

I saw a study a few months back that backs up Leanan's point about lighting cutting accident rates. I hate it though, as an backyard astronomer I've given up using my scope, because you just cant see *&^%. And we clearly overlight suburban neighborhoods. Its shocking how 99% of urban man thinks he needs massive illumination in order to do anything (other than sex) at night. I'd love to see at least some moderation in our street lighting, say 50% intensity (or only use every other light) after midnight. If you are thinking in terms of ultimate efficiency, how many Joules does it take to get a single photon to register on a human retina. All other photons from artificial light are wasted, and they must be greater than 99.9 percent of them.

Perhaps this will explain the reason for street lights in most of our cities.

I'll not go all the way back to the "good old (real old) days but just stick to the time from the 1950s till today.

The biggest reason street lights were installed was so that the electric generation company would be able to keep the generator (s) running overnight above the minimum cost level. The companies that supply our power can only run there generators down to a point where they break even on their costs.

A lot of the people should remember back in the fifties during the week most people went home at 5:00 o'clock and went to bed at nine or ten. As a consequence the lights went out all over town dropping the load to below the minimum ,cost, operating level.

In today's 24/7/365 society they are used mostly for load leveling.


I really miss not being able to see stars on a clear night in urban areas.

Nothing beats paddling out on the ocean in a kayak on a clear calm moonless night off a stretch of beach with no artificial lighting and looking up to see the stars!

I have no problem with higher electricity rates. Already the rates most people pay are deeply subsidized. It will induce further conservation.


I don't know what country you live in but here in the good old US of A the only institutions that I know of that get subsidized are corps and businesses. I sure don't get a subsidy for my power.


There may be savings to some electrical power plants, if they can actually turn some power plants off at night.

Gail, that is not exactly correct. There is a minimum amount of power that any power plant can generate but that is a long way below the maximum they can generate. Any power plant can easily reduce its power output from one generator by 75% or more.

Any power that is generated must be consumed! It is possible to dump power into a "dummy load" but these are never used except in testing phases when the power plant is being built. So any power not being used is not being generated. And this results in savings in fuel.

Power plants adjust output on the fly. Any increase in load will result in a slight decrease in voltage and vise versa if the load is decreased. This will automatically cause the plant to adjust fuel input to either increase or reduce steam pressure to generate more or less power.

Power plants shoot for 117.5 volts on each phase to consumers but it is seldom exactly that because the load is constantly changing.

Ron P.

I know there are a lot of nuances to this. Clearly nuclear plants aren't going to be any different, regardless of demand. So I am presuming that your statement about "Any power plant can easily reduce its power output from one generator by 75% or more," is a little on the glib side.

Geothermal plants are like nuclear, no ramp down capability, at least in existing plants, but I understand newer technology will allow it in new plants.

Coal has some feasibility to be ramped down, but I was guessing this was happening mostly at night already--but I really don't know. I am sure it varies with newer technology. I had never heard that it in general could be ramped down by as much as 75%--are you sure about this? Is this true for older as well as newer technologies?

Gas is clearly 100% variable--but how much of base load is gas?

Wind does its own thing.

Okay, here is how it works. Say you have a single 100,000 watt generating plant. (A very small plant I know but this is just an example.) And say you have 100 customers each consuming 1,000 watts each. Then another customer suddenly comes on line, also consuming 1,000 watts. But the plant cannot possibly respond this fast so something else happens.

Everyone's voltage drops by 1 percent because the power plant is not generating any more power. So 101 customers are now consuming 990 watts instead of 100 customers consuming 1,000 watts. This is too small a change for any customer to notice. The power plant senses that the voltage has dropped and starts to make adjustments. This will take several minutes depending on the type of power plant. Gas or liquid fuel plants can adjust the fastest, coal next and nuclear next. I know nothing about geothermal plants but I don't think they make up very much of our grid capacity.

Yes, nuclear power plants can adjust their output and it is not as slow to respond to load changes as you might imagine. They have cobalt, boron, or other absorption rods that can be inserted to either increase or decrease the heat being generated by the reactor. The rods absorb neutrons and cut back on fission, cutting back on heat, cutting back on steam, cutting back on the power being generated.

And no, 75 percent is not an exaggeration. Some generators can cut back far more than that. Small diesel generators can go from maximum to nothing in almost an instant. Have you ever seen a diesel powered electric welder. When the welder is doing nothing, no power is being generated and the generator is freewheeling. But when he strikes the rod to the metal you can hear the diesel motor bog down and black smoke rolls out and the governor opens up dumping more fuel to the motor to compensate. The generator has gone from nothing to maximum in an instant.

The gas powered plant that I worked at for two years was hardly different. If the load dropped suddenly because a breaker tripped in some town being served, the steam valves would start to shut down and power output would drop dramatically in seconds. But pressure would start to build in the drum and fuel would be cut to drop the pressure until the load could be restored.

And this is important. The grid is never just one power plant. And since some plants are much slower to respond to load changes than others the power company will assign its fastest changers as Load following power plants

Ron P.

I agree diesel is very quick, but basically not much used on our grid. And gas is too. My question is really with coal.

I saw the Puma Geothermal Venture when I was in Hilo, Hawaii. Their problem was that the production from the plant exceeded the baseline generation needed for the area their grid extended to (as I understood it). They were looking at generating hydrogen with the excess capacity at night. They planned to add on, but with newer equipment, that would allow them to generate only when needed.

Gail, it takes only seconds to change the load even on a coal plant. All you must do is change the steam to the turbine. It then takes a few minutes to lower or raise the flame inside the boiler to adjust for the new load and it takes a few more minutes to bring the pressure back up or down depending on which way the load shifted.

Please don't get the impression that fossil fuel steam plants work anything like a geothermal plant. Changing load in a steam turbine in really no big deal. I can see however that a geothermal plant may need to run at a constant load.

A coal plant is not that much difference from a gas or oil powered plant. The coal is pulverized into a fine dust and blown into the boiler just like gas is released into the boiler. You can cut the amount of coal blown into the boiler in an instant or double it for that matter. The coal dust combusts in an instant, just as gas would.

How a Coal-fired Power Plant works
The coal is then pulverized, or crushed, to a fine powder, mixed with air and blown into the boiler, or furnace for combustion.

The boiler is really a big box, much taller than it is wide, lined with pipes. Water passes through the pipes from the bottom up. It enters the pipes as water and most of it is steam by the time it reaches the top of the boiler. Huge pipes just outside the boiler called "down cobmers" take what water that was not steam back down to the bottom of the boiler in order to make the trip again. The fire is inside the boiler not under the boiler as most people might think.

Ron P.


The boiler is really a big box, much taller than it is wide, lined with pipes. Water passes through the pipes from the bottom up. It enters the pipes as water and most of it is steam by the time it reaches the top of the boiler. Huge pipes just outside the boiler called "down cobmers" take what water that was not steam back down to the bottom of the boiler in order to make the trip again. The fire is inside the boiler not under the boiler as most people might think.

you really need to go to a Thermal power plant using either coal or Nat. gas, and spend a few hours learning just how the heat in the fire box is used to heat the water into steam and used. The water in the tubes surrounding the fire box is only used to cool the wall of the fire box. The heat generated by the fire heats large numbers of tubes at the top of the firebox turning it into steam and stored in a boiler at the top. The steam then travels down other pipes (insulated of course)to the turbine attached to the generator.

after passing through the turbine it then goes to a condencer where it is cooled back to water and returned to the firebox to be heated again.

The water in the boiler must be highly purified and deionized before it can be turned into steam and used. The water used for cooling the fire wall just needs to be plane old water.

Yes; the water in the waterwall gets very hot as a consequence must be cooled constantly. This is done by pumping it through large cooling towers usually built along side the main plant.

I hope this helps you understand how a power plant works.


Old Hermit, I dearly wish you knew how a power plant works. I worked in one for two years and know very well how one works.

NO, there is not two sets of water, one for cooling the walls and one to generate steam. And the water in the walls is not regurlar water, it is PH balanced water, the same water that passes through the turbine as steam. If this water is even a fraction off PH 6, in either direction, they get really excited because they know the insides of the pipes are being eaten away. And where you are most wrong, the cooling towers are not used to cool the "wall water" or whatever you call it, it is use to cool the water that has passed through the condencer before it is returned to the river or other source.

The power plant where I worked, Ghazlan power plant in Saudi Arabia, had no cooling towers because the condencer water was just returned back to the Persian Gulf, a few hundred yards from the intake.

The feed pump, (there is only one) takes water from the condencer and pushes it up through the wall pipes. There it is funnelled into larger pipes and goes into the drum which is under very high pressure. The downcombers take water from the drum and cycle it back to the bottom again. But the drum is only half full of water, the rest is steam under such pressure that it is just above the flash point. All the water in the drum would suddenly flash to steam if the drum were to rupture.

Then the steam from the drum is passed to the turbine. At the steam exits the turbine it passes through the condencer and is turned back into water. The pressure at the top of the condencer is actually negative. The feed pump then takes the water that has passed through the hot side of the condencer is then fed back to the boiler.

The condencer is a huge series of pipes through which outside cool water is passed through. But the steam, or water that just left the turbine is so hot that it heats this outside cooling water to a pretty high temperature. This would kill the fish if it were just returned to the river. That is what the cooling towers are for! It cools the condencer water so it can be safely returned to nature. And again, all power plants do not have cooling towers. Browns Ferry in Athens Alabama does not have cooling towers. The allow the water to cool somewhat in a pond then return it to Wheeler lake which is on the Tennessee river. The power plants in Saudi Arabia do not use cooling towers because they do not give a damn about any fish in the Persian Gulf being killed.

It would e a tremendous waste of energy just to cool the sides of the boiler, get the water very hot, then cool the water in cooling towers. The water in the sides of the boiler is used to generate steam.

I hope this helps you understand how a power plant works. Because your misunderstanding of what the cooling towers are used for tells me for certain that you don't know how a power plant really works.

Cooling Towers

Cooling Towers have one function:

Remove heat from the water discharged from the condenser so that the water can be discharged to the river or recirculated and reused.

(By recirculated and reused they mean to be used as condencer cooling water again.)

Recirculation of the water back to the inlet to the condenser occurs during certain fish sensitive times of the year (e.g. spring, summer, fall) so that only a limited amount of water from the plant condenser may be discharged to the lake or river.

Ron P.

I got you beat Ron; I spent 27 years working for an electric utility company.


What were you, a pole lineman? Obviously you did not work in a power plant because you know absolutely nothing about them.

Ron P.

I only spent 6 years working with power generation systems, but I can tell you that Ron is absolutely right.

The heat exchangers in a coal/oil boiler are designed to put as much of the energy of the fire as possible into the steam. I don't know the operating pressure of a civilian coal plant, but the "wall-cooling coils" pre-heat the water, which then goes through boiling and superheating coils placed as close as possible to the optimum positions in the boiler to suck every possible erg out.

Variations on this design date back to the early 20th century and were the standard for conventional warships until gas-turbine technology advanced sufficiently to replace it in most applications.

I agree with Ron, mol. I've got 2 engineering degrees (MsME) and Ron has provided the better short description of a steam power plant. He left out a few bits and pieces, but one would need a text book to cover all of them. A short explanation may be found in a ME handbook, such as Marks.

E. Swanson

..all power plants do not have cooling towers. Browns Ferry in Athens Alabama does not have cooling towers. The allow the water to cool somewhat in a pond then return it to Wheeler lake which is on the Tennessee river.

One of the large coal fired powerplants near here has a good sized reservoir associated with it. The water is so warm that it has become a windsurfing mecca in winter. So warm, in fact, that tropical fish irresponsibly released from home aquaria survive in it. Hypostomine catfish have been observed in it and for years a large serrasalmine "pacu" (probably a Colossoma species) lived there. That fish was so famous that when it was finally found dead its death made a headline in the local newspaper.


in the early 70's i was told the limiting factor for low load periods for coal fired powerplants was to not cool down the boiler tubes such that there were increases in leaks.

there were programs in the state -i was told related to the low load problem- promoting street, & security lights[for rural homes/businesses] with very reduced 'night' rates.

there was at that time significant down time repairing leaking boiler tubes.

That sounds more like what I had heard.

Yes, nuclear power plants can adjust their output and it is not as slow to respond to load changes as you might imagine. They have cobalt, boron, or other absorption rods that can be inserted to either increase or decrease the heat being generated by the reactor.

While you can do this, only the French bothered and only because they liked to see if they could use nukes as load following. Its not a good idea because its a waste of time. Fuel is cheaper than the extra cost of load balancing and the thermal shocks of varying power output increase maintenance concerns. In a nuke, its better to simply dump power into resistor banks than to vary the power output.

Its a concern only the French would have however, because just about everywhere else has more than enough power that is dispatchable with a fuel cost high enough to justify load following.

But just as likely, it seems like it will be just a loss of revenue to them. To make it up, they will have to raise rates elsewhere.

Hi Gail,

Street lighting represents about one per cent of Canada's total electrical demand, so if you were to cut this load in half by upgrading to more efficient technologies and/or by reducing the number of fixtures in service, the loss in revenues would be more than offset by growth in other sectors.

Personally, I would be happy to see fixtures dimmed on major motorways after 02h00 (or some portion turned off); there's really no need for dusk to dawn illumination at full power when a lesser amount of light would be sufficient during these periods of low usage.

Notably, the City of Oslo has deployed a dimmable street lighting system from Philips that has reduced their energy consumption by 62 per cent and they expect to cut that by another ten to fifteen per cent as they further optimize its operation.


I would be interested in opinions as to why conservatives are not very well represented on TOD or other peak oil blogs. Peak oil doesn't seem to me to be a natural dividing issue between liberals and conservatives, since it primarily based on geology.

Possible reasons that come to mind are: (1) Peak oil implies major change, and conservatives react negatively to change, (2) Peak oil is sometimes associated with other issues traditionally more appealing to liberals, such as environmental activism, (3) Peak oil is sometimes also associated with Malthusian ideas popular to those left of center.

Those are some reasons that occur to me; there might be others.

First, I would say that there are a number of conservative voices here regularly. But that said...

The subtext of any full realization of peak oil and hitting the myriad other resource bottlenecks is that growth capitalism as we have known it these past several decades is coming to an end. This is just too much for the average conservative to come to grips with, so they simply deny it, and avoid forums like TOD where folks will not put up with simple cheerleading for BAU.

The typical conservative folks that I know (speaking of the US now) seem to analyze any and all social and economic issues as though the US is a small frontier town, or a town out of a Norman Rockwell painting, rather than the globalized, mega-corporatized scam that it is. They seem to really believe that there is such a thing as a "free market". They can't understand that the market, while effective and efficient in some domains, simply cannot grapple with certain categories of issues. Especially issues with consequences further out than the next corporate quarterly reports, or at most, the next election cycle.

And so peak oil (and climate change, and overpopulation, and anything else that hints of reaching a limit) is simply inadmissable into their model of the world.

Good point about growth capitalism. I hadn't thought of that.

N-Guy: a great line of inquiry. I'd urge you to put together a post to elevate this discussion and keep it from getting buried in DB.

I want to learn more about how PO is getting linked to end-times discourse in religious (esp. evangelical Christian) circles. I'm not seeing much of this in my Christian circles; most concern is with Obama as being not just bad, but the lead edge of all sorts of very bad things. (I worry too about all this spending and O's coziness with Goldman-Sachs types, but that's a bit of a tangent.) Denial about PO seems to be the order of the day.

I'm thinking about writing an article for some forum along the lines of "peak oil for conservatives." I'll let TOD know how it goes. I realize that using a general term like "conservatives" is problematic, since conservative can mean a lot of different things, and individual real people do not fit neatly into such general categories. I appreciate everyone's good comments on this topic; they've provided some food for thought.

And good point about the misplaced nostalgia. I've noticed the same thing, but I couldn't have explained it as succintly.

I think conservatives are not well represented on TOD because this is a science based forum. So those who deny everything from the age of the earth to evolution and climate change tend to feel uncomfortable and drift elsewhere.

Among the general population, I think peak oil is more commonly believed by conservatives. And the answer tends to be coal to liquids, tar sands, or oil shale. It is my experience that the environmental community actively avoids talking about peak oil. They prefer to talk about climate change. However, there are many cornucopian believers on both sides.


One last note. I don't think malthusian ideas are left of center. Or right of center. I think both sides have a growth myth they enjoy, and both sides don't like that myth messed around. The only time I have been called malthusian was by a left leaning economist.

I think you're right. Social conservatives, at least, tend to be uncomfortable with science, and this is very much a science-based site.

Among the general population, I think peak oil is more commonly believed by conservatives. And the answer tends to be coal to liquids, tar sands, or oil shale.

The fiscal conservatives, maybe. Among social conservatives, there seem to be quite a few who see the answer as the Rapture, or a survivalist type scenario where those who survive will be those who have stockpiled guns and groceries.

Agree about Malthus. There's nothing left-leaning about Malthusian beliefs. My dad likes to say Malthus was wrong only in his timing. Dad is somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun - at least fiscally.

My dad likes to say Malthus was wrong only in his timing. Dad is somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun - at least fiscally.

Wow. I would like to hear an explanation of that.

My dad is a very intelligent man. He's a scientist, and an atheist born and bred. He's deeply conservative, socially, fiscally, personally...everything except religiously.

That makes for some oddities. For example, he's against abortion; he thinks it's murder. But he says it's a waste of time protesting it. Human life will inevitably get cheaper as we get closer to Malthusian limits, and that will trump everything else.

He sounds like an OK guy, and absolutely, human life will get cheaper. I doubt that any more than .999999999% of the population can envisage what your dad means. Eventually human life will be judged by it's usefulness........How that life can best serve the Pharaoh, and don't expect to live your three score and ten.

Not even 1%? Whoa That's harsh..

Leanan -

Using the simplistic stereotypical image of liberals and conservatives, as an engineer myself, it's been my observation over many years that engineers are very predominantly conservative, whereas scientists (i.e., those people actually practicing science, not just someone with a bachelor's degree in some science) tend to be far more liberal.

I have always been somewhat puzzled about why this should be, as both groups are knowledgeable about science and the scientific method and make their living by doing things involving the (presumably) objective analysis of facts and data. So it can't be a question of technical illiteracy.

My best explanation has to do with how the two groups make their living. Most engineers either work for corporations or the engineering firms that serve those corporations, and hence derive their livelihood from the corporate world. As the corporate world is inherently conservative and status quo oriented, therefore so too are engineers. However, many scientists are either directly or indirectly associated with academia. As academia is notoriously liberal, so too are many scientists. Sound plausible?

Then there is the fact that engineers as a group tend to be indifferent to societal problems and seldom challenge authority, whereas scientists tend to be more idealistic, progressive, and politically active. I can say without exaggeration that I've known engineers who I am certain would have no qualms whatsoever about designing gas chambers and crematoriums for concentration camps. It's all the same: you get a set of specs handed to you, and then you build what you're told to build according to those specs. End of story. While we have a liberal-leaning organization called the Union of Concerned Scientists, I doubt we'll ever see an organization called the Union of Concerned Engineers. Too much apathy, indifference, and respect for authority.

As you may have gathered, at times I have not been terribly proud to be a member of the engineering profession. However, my familiarity is primarily with those engineers having graduated pre-1980. Perhaps the newer generation of engineers is (hopefully) more engaged and politically astute.

It doesn't explain my dad, who has worked most of his life for universities (with the odd government agency here or there).

I have not really noticed that engineers are conservative. Geography seems to trump profession, IME. When I worked in NYC, the engineers were all liberal. Now that I'm in more rural, "red" area, the engineers are conservative.

Leanan -

As I said, it could be a generational thing. During the period spanning the late 1960s to the early 1980s, I can unequivocally say that at least three quarters of the engineers I have personally known fit the stereotypical image of 'conservative'. And this was in the supposedly liberal Northeast. Maybe the days of crew-cuts and plastic pocket protecters are over.

When I worked at Hanford, I was stunned by the number of engineers who would work all day with materials having half-lives in the millions of years and then profess straight young-earth creationist doctrine when at home and in church. It was very clear -- I had many scientists line up with me against these creationists when they tried to get creationist nonsense introduced into the school district science curriculum, but I was one of the only engineers.

That incident really drove home for me the difference between a scientist (who wants to know what is true) and an engineer who needs only to know what's true enough to get the job done within the cost and time constraints. For an engineer, a good, useful thumbrule is an optimization thing and very much to be valued; for a scientist a thumbrule is at best a hint about how things might be, but may be as misleading as not.

I have not really noticed that engineers are conservative. Geography seems to trump profession, IME. When I worked in NYC, the engineers were all liberal. Now that I'm in more rural, "red" area, the engineers are conservative.

I've been in both sorts of places, science & engineering dominated. I suspect science was more evenly divided until recently. Since the Republicans have choosen a strategy of pro-fundamentalist religion, anti-science kinda has become a requirement, and I think most scientists have been driven to the left in the USA, because the right has become their enemy.

But there are exceptions. I started in Los Alamos (79-84). The county was dominated by lab scientists, and there probably was not a more republican county anywhere in the country. But, then again, with maybe half of these people involved with N weapons, thats probably not surprising. Another large concentration of both scientists and engineers is in the defense industry, and these folks are heavily republican. In the computer industry, which seemed to be mostly dominated by ex-science types, things were more evenly split, but I usually had the misfortune to end up with far right colleges.

When I went to the university, there were great personality differences between engineers and sciences. The science types were more interested in fundamental truths, and knowing the how and why things worked. The engineers mostly just wanted a set of cookbook tools they could use to build stuff with.

Now I'm at a place that writes software for mechanical engineers. Being in the Bay area, it has more liberals than conservatives, but the later are very far right types.

There wasn't much difference when I was in school. But then, it was a very conservative school.

I do remember the scientists looking down on the engineers, claiming that "Engineers are parasites on scientists." Then the math majors would come by, and say, "Scientists are parasites on mathematicians." ;-)

Actually some of the differences between the politics of scientists and engineers is very North American and Western European-centric. You will find much more left-leaning (ie Human Rights and social justice oriented) engineers in the developing world and the ex-Communist spheres. I knew alot of Middle Eastern and East Indian engineers who definitely cared deeply about civil society. A large part of the conservatism of western engineers seems to me to come out of close ties between the military and engineering in the west: Army Corps of Engineers, the GI bill, the Space and Arms Races, US's huge military spending on hardware, the big French engineering schools founded by Napolean, etc. Western scientists rely on the military much less for funding, except for physics, which is also full of conservative types, and also seems full of people oblivious to the ethical considerations of their work.

Just some anecdotal evidence from my extended family.

There seem to be fewer critical thinkers amongst the engineers than amongst the scientists. Most of the practicing scientists that I know personally tend to be adverse to any kind of dogma and tend to seek out empirical evidence on which to base their world views.

In a nutshell there seem to be more creationists, for example, among engineers than among true scientists.

The scientists have more often than not embodied the concepts of the scientific method whereas the engineers seem to be better at compartmentalizing and continuing to function professionally despite what would seem to be profound cognitive dissonance.

As an example one of my relatives is an engineer and a Baptist Minister while another is a microbiologist and an atheist. Granted the former also tends to be more socially conservative than the latter ;-)

FMagyar -

I think you hit the nail on the head!

Engineers have an enormous capacity for cognitive dissonance. Having said that, many engineers are extremely intelligent but, sadly, very lacking in curiosity. I know of several brilliant engineers who have hardly read more than a handful of books since graduation that wasn't a Tom Clancey novel.

It used to drive me up the wall listening to the lunchtime conversations amongst some of my fellow engineers during the late 1960s and early 1970s. While some 200 American troops were getting killed in Vietnam each week, the conversations tended to be restricted to football scores, lawn care, and TV shows. I was with them but not of them.

By the way, I have been curious about your website name, as I myself am actually one half Magyar.

While I was born in Brazil both my parents were born in Hungary and many of my extended family live there.

FMagyar -

My grandparents on my mother's side came from Hungary to the US in the early 1910s. My grandmother grew up in a strongly Hungarian community in Cliffside Park, New Jersey, a stone's throw from New York City. She was surrounded by so many Hungarians that until she died at the age of 97 she could barely speak any English. I picked up a little bit of Hungarian along the way, but don't remember very much. A most unusual and difficult language!

Hungary to Brazil is quite a geographic and cultural transition, to say the least. (I'm sorry, but it's just a bit difficult for me to picture Portuguese spoke with a Hungarian accent). However, the history of mankind is the history of migrations, and I suppose that yours' won't be the last, particularly in these crazy times.

When you get right down to it, we are all like algae, trying to find a more sunny spot on this rock we call the Earth.

Hungary to Brazil is quite a geographic and cultural transition, to say the least. (I'm sorry, but it's just a bit difficult for me to picture Portuguese spoke with a Hungarian accent).

My family history including my own is much more convoluted than that, I could probably add a few chapters to a few of the books already written by my family members. Many of us have a dual US and Brazilian citizenship connection and speak English, Hungarian and Portugues plus we have relatives literally all over the world. I have still many relatives in New England, mostly Connecticut and Massachusetts. My family tree goes back to the 12th century, if you are interested give me an email and I'll send you a brief history with a link to our family cemetary in Farmos Hungary

FMagyar -

That would be very interesting, but I don't have your email address.


Part of the difference between engineers and scientists may be their degree of respect for nature. Engineers tend to think of humans as above nature and are driven to tame it, find a techno-fix for every ill. This may stem from one of the base premises of christianity, the concept of humans' righteous dominion over nature. Scientists tend on the other hand to more easily accept and understand that "Nature bats last". Peak oil is seemingly a simple concept to grasp and accept. It's amazing how many cannot do this.

I can't concur. As an engineer who knows many, many other engineers, I can categorically state that most are more concerned that the average American about nature, energy, climate, and sustainability. They mostly do have day jobs though, and focus on what they get paid to do, which could be "good" or "bad" depending on the job (and your perspective).

Unlike most Americans, they can also do math, understand basic probability theory, and comprehends statistics. One-off examples and testimonials shouldn't faze an engineer any more than a scientist. Most can see the difference between "truth" and "marketing" with a bit of experience as well.

You might also want to differentiate between us engineers and them scientists. Us engineers tend to be more conservative than your average scientist - and since we live in the real world tend to be less impressed by theoretical predictions that don't stand the test of time without cooking the data or "losing the original information."

...also need to differentiate between US conservatives and European/UK conservatives.

I, an Englishman, consider myself 'conservative'. Indeed, I am much more likely to vote for the Conservative party than other parties (although it wouldn't be perfect, certainly they get my vote at the next election).

However, being 'conservative' in Europe does not necessarily mean that I have to be pro-life, pro-Jesus, pro-gun, pro-death penalty, anti-gay, anti-Mohammed, anti-global warming theory, anti-resource limits theory, pro-free markets, anti-fluffy animals [you get the picture!]

In fact i would argue that true conservatism (small 'c') has more in common with the worries of resource limits than Big Government command and control socialism.

I am sure that there are many small 'c' conservatives in the US. By small 'c' I mean conservative in nature if not in the way they vote.

An engineer disparaging science is like a son calling his mother a ho!

Without Joseph Fourier, the scientist who discovered the greenhouse effect, where would engineering be? FYI, the question is rhetorical.

Grin, I'm a Newcomen guy myself, and would prefer to reverse the rhetorical question. Or would you prefer freezing in the dark?

Mark Twain said it so much more succinctly than I ever could: "You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I'll tell you what his 'pinions is."

Worth repeating:

I think conservatives are not well represented on TOD because this is a science based forum. So those who deny everything from the age of the earth to evolution and climate change tend to feel uncomfortable and drift elsewhere.

Another point: Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly scoff at both Peak Oil and Global Warming. I know that the right wing members of my family quote them all the time. Sad.

I'm actually surprised there are so many big-L Liberals. Peak Growth also means Peak Socialism. All our ponzi scheme entitlement programs are dead in the water if growth is.

My political main worry for the post peak oil world is not socialism, its fascism.
Fascism is an ideal ideology for thieves and agressors in zero sum game and it could tear our global culture and economy into shreads.

My impression that most posters are fairly conservative, but that may point out how relative these terms are. To an ultraconservative, any site that includes any voices outside of their narrow view is liberal. This holds for politicians and institutions.

I would point out that we hardly ever have posters arguing for:

civil rights,
worker's rights,
redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor,
women's rights...

all basic leftist positions.

Malthusian ideas are not popular on the left. Communists I know are extremely dismissive of Malthus and his ideas.

There are any number of free market "conservatives" around here--I know because I mix it up with them regularly (and am usually pretty lonely in my position, I note).

But I don't see arguments against those things either; they just aren't directly relevant to the oil future. And you'd be surprised at how many 'leftists' are for free markets - within a concept of a well organized commons. Socialism and free markets can and do coexist.

They may not be directly relevant, but nothing is completely irrelevant to an trend (oil depletion) that will affect every facet of industrial society.

Note that two of the greatest luminaries in the PO constellation are Simmons and Kunstler, neither of whom could be characterized as flaming liberals.

What I also don't see much of here, which would be very much directly relevant, is a sustained critique of corporate policies of major oil companies. Without such critiques (and with the occasional embarrassing fluff PR pieces for such policies), the site risks looking like a cover for these corporations--a way to divert anger about rising oil prices away from companies making stunning profits from the pain of consumers.

A thoroughgoing critique of global and national power structures would be very relevant, but might strike many as Marxist, un-American, leftist...

It is interesting to me that this has come up, since I was just taking to some leftist activists about PO and they noted how much such analyses were lacking.

I would also like to point out that there is effectively no "left" in the US. There is nationally no effective labor party or green party, much less an effective socialist or communist party. This warps all discussions about what is or isn't 'left.'

A thoroughgoing critique of global and national power structures would be very relevant, but might strike many as Marxist, un-American, leftist..

I think many of us here think that such attitudes -if we allow them to get attached to PO, will make the message very hard to sell outside of that somewhat narrow political niche.

I would also like to point out that there is effectively no "left" in the US. There is nationally no effective labor party or green party, much less an effective socialist or communist party. This warps all discussions about what is or isn't 'left.'

That is certainly true. And I think it is why to us muricans, this site has a leftish feel to it. Anything not fairly hard right feels leftish to us. Left and right are all relative to your framework. Us politics is pretty much a battle between center-right, and hard right. Anyone even center-leftish gets marginalized pretty quickly.

You are not alone

I think the definition of "conservative" is important. The definition has been as distorted by most to mean something to gain political leverage just like the redefinition of liberal to mean something else.

I consider myself a conservative. I do not agree that people who work and create something should share wealth with people that do nothing or very little. I am against a system that would allow people to live together and create children and not get married so they can collect thousands per month in welfare but I do believe in welfare. I am well aware of most of the Black Swans associated with our present condition.

So tell me, why many here like myself and Todd and others would be considered conservatives. What is liberal? Is this the Barney Franks who believe everyone deserves a home ... let's make it a McMansion. Is it the Paulson's or Bernake's who would give your money and mine to banksters because they failed? So before we condemn conservatism, let us look at liberalism with as close an eye. Conservatism does not mean religious fanatic as would be expounded by bogus liberals. Liberalism does not necessarily mean a ego centered killing atheist. Nor is science a liberal enterprise.

I believe the argument could go on and on about fiscal policy too. Some of the flaming liberal statements I have seen here are as unbelivable as that of a 4000 year old earth.

TOD should be about facts at least as thought to be facts about our world though the daily Drum Beat is allowed more leeway for liberal and conservatives to duke it out without too many restrictions.

TOD should be about facts at least as thought to be facts about our world though the daily Drum Beat is allowed more leeway for liberal and conservatives to duke it out without too many restrictions.

I am thinking about changing that. IMO, there's little to be gained by allowing liberals and conservatives to "duke it out." Politics cannot be off-limits here, but I really want to discourage the kind of political polemics that you can find on so many other sites. Most people don't come here for that. It generates heat, not light, and it's not going to change anyone's mind.

And the traditional political divide seems hopelessly outdated in the light of peak oil. There are few differences between Democrats and Republicans on the issues that really matter.

Bravo Leanan.


There are few differences between Democrats and Republicans on the issues that really matter.

In my opinion, there are very big differences between "Drill, Baby, Drill" on one side and a 20%National Renewable Portfolio Standard on the other.

Not to me.

"Drill baby drill" was just the talking point the press picked up. There wasn't that much difference between the GOP and the Democrats on energy. McCain was in favor of renewable energy. The Democrats allowed the offshore drilling ban to expire.

Drill, Baby, Drill is a philosophy passionately 'believed' by many low-information people. The Dems caved on lifting some drilling bans because they don't have the spine to stand up to the Limbaughs and Hannities et al.

And how many wells are being drilled in those newly opened areas, anyway? I say open up every area, including National Parks, Arlington Cemetery, and the White House lawn. We'll see how many more oil and gas wells are drilled...precious few, I would think.

McCain blows in the wind like no one's business. I don't trust him at all. He kissed GWB's ring after the black baby adoption campaign in South Carolina, he foolishly agreed with his advisers and brought Palin on-board his campaign, and now he is claiming that he would sign on to a health care reform bill if only Teddy Kennedy were around to make it happen.

He is full of condensed monkey milk.

McCain blows in the wind like no one's business.

And that makes him different from other politicians how?

That's my point, really. In theory, there's a difference between the parties. In practice, there's isn't much of one. They all move to the center once they're in office, if not before.

This is a result of our political system, and will not be changed, barring a change in the Constitution. We are always going to end up with two parties with hardly a whit of difference between them.

Any analysis of voting records instead of rhetoric will show very significant differences in energy policy between Repubs and Dems. Despite his rhetoric McCain frequently votes for fossil subsidies and against renewables and energy efficiency.

As an example of the the difference, from wikipedia about the Waxman-Markey climate change bill,

"The bill was approved by the House by a vote of 219-212, with 8 Republicans supporting, and 44 Democrats voting against, and 3 members not voting.[14] All Representatives present at the time of the vote had cast votes. "

So 95% of supporters of the American Clean Energy and Security Act were Dems, and 80% of opponents were Republicans.

It is possible to argue that Waxman-Markey is bad policy, but the argument that there is no difference between the parties on energy policy is simply not supported by voting records.

It is possible to argue that Waxman-Markey is bad policy, but the argument that there is no difference between the parties on energy policy is simply not supported by voting records.

And this goes way back to at least the Carter/Reagan transition. Partly it may be that the republicans found they could make tactical gains by tarring the Dems with the soft-path (conservation plus early not-yet-ready renewables) brush. Sometimes once a choice (of path A versus path B) is taken, it becomes too hard to change paths. So the R's have become increasingly drill-baby-drill, conservation (or solar) is for sissies, while the democrats have naturaly been put onto the opposite path. In any case under Carter the US was taking the lead in developing wind/solar/geothermal, but once Reagan got in that stuff was severely curtailed. That is how late starters, like the Europeans, and Asians have got ahead of us in field we pioneered.

When I was at Los Alamos, during Carter years the lab was becoming more of an energy lab (including stuff like solar and geothermal) than a weapons lab. Once Reagan got in those "liberal" programs soon vanished.

Voting records mean squat. It's all a game. A lot these votes amount to protest votes. Easy to do, because they don't make a difference.

And even when it does matter...there's not much difference between the parties. Using your example of Waxman-Markey...does anyone here really believe it will make a difference? If all goes as planned, it will reduce US oil use by 4.5% by 2020, and cut emissions about the same.

We have one party that wants to do nothing, and one that wants to do hardly anything. That's fine on the upslope of Hubbert's peak. On the downslope, not so much.

Using your example of Waxman-Markey...does anyone here really believe it will make a difference? If all goes as planned, it will reduce US oil use by 4.5% by 2020, and cut emissions about the same.

Leanan, I don't expect to change your mind, but the quote below form wikipedia shows a 20% emissions reduction target by 2020 and an 80% reduction by 2050. Personally, I do expect Waxman-Markey to make a difference. Maybe not so much with the carbon-trading which could be gamed, but with the building energy efficiency standards buried in the bill.

In the work I do everyday in building energy efficiency, there is no other variable that impacts building energy consumption as significantly as building codes. California building codes have reduced building energy use per square foot by more than 50% over the last couple of decades. Reductions in energy use from building codes endure for decades, maybe centuries. Meanwhile, many places in the US currently have no building energy codes (including much of Alaska) and Waxman-Markey provided a federal backstop code (at least as enacted by the House).

From wikipedia"
The bill is a variant of a cap-and-trade plan:
Year Required Annual Percentage
2012 6.0
2013 6.0
2014 9.5
2015 9.5
2016 13.0
2017 13.0
2018 16.5
2019 16.5
2020 20.0
2021-2039 20.0

* It sets a slightly higher target for reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases than that proposed by President Barack Obama. The bill requires a 17-percent emissions reduction from 2005 levels by 2020; Obama has proposed a 14 percent reduction by 2020. Both plans would reduce United States' emissions by about 80 percent by 2050.
* It includes a renewable electricity standard (almost identical to a renewable portfolio standard, but narrowly tailored to electrical energy) requiring each electricity provider who supplies over 4 million MWh to produce 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources (such as wind, solar, and geothermal) by 2020. There is a provision whereby 5% of this standard can be met through energy efficiency savings, as well as an additional 3% with certification of the Governor of the state in which the provider operates."

I think you're painting a caricature of liberals, and possibly conservatives as well. Perhaps intentionally, to make your point.

That said, I totally agree with you that defining these terms is useful, though perhaps impossible, as they have been so polarized and warped.

When you call someone "conservative" or "liberal" it seems you are imputing a whole package of beliefs onto that person that I don't think necessarily travel together. There are economic issues, environmental issues, social issues, religious issues, etc. etc.

I don't like that people assume that because I believe "x" from the conservative menu that therefore I must believe "y" and "z". This bundling drives me nuts.

Same with "Left" vs. "Right". Drives me nuts.

But people will self-identify as being conservative or liberal. It seems it's more like picking a sports team to root for. They're your team, and all that matters is that they win.

At least in the US, it's this 2-sides thing: Ford - Chevy, Dem - Repub, Redsox - Yankees :-) etc. Always oversimplification, always black-white, always "for us or agin' us".

Maybe it's like the Supreme Court definition of obscenity - you can't really quite define it to a legal nicety, but you know it when you see it :-)

But I really feel strongly that the agressive polarization of everything is a deep flaw in the American discourse, and it's one I hope we can work through.

When you call someone "conservative" or "liberal" it seems you are imputing a whole package of beliefs onto that person that I don't think necessarily travel together. There are economic issues, environmental issues, social issues, religious issues, etc. etc.

I don't like that people assume that because I believe "x" from the conservative menu that therefore I must believe "y" and "z". This bundling drives me nuts.

I pretty much started out that way, some from column L and some from column R. But, it is a lonely place to be. And it seems to be a great way to make enemies. There is nothing like the vehemence towards those that one thinks have switched sides against you. And if you are a some from both menus types, both sides will at some time think you are one of them, then feel you have betrayed them once the subject switches to one where you support the other side. And since character judgements are so often pretty narrowly partisan, someone who can't be counted on to be solidly left -or solidly right, is considered to be untrustworthy and lacking in conviction. So in a highly partisan environment like the modern US the only way for most people to cope, is to decide which side you are most comfortable with, and join in. Then you here, mostly the arguments for their position, and tend towards more and more of thier worldviews.

I wonder, if countries with a parlimentary system, which favors several parties, rather than just two, offer better choices?

I do not agree that people who work and create something should share wealth with people that do nothing or very little.

So how do you feel about the workers, farmers, small business entrepreneurs , etc.. the people who really produce sharing the wealth with an exploitative financial elite such as Bankers, Wall St. financial wizards, CEOs of failed corporations and the like, the so called free market capitalists. Because it seems to me that those are the people who should be put out to pasture and their privilege to exploit the masses revoked.

Or are you perhaps complaining about the poor and ignorant masses who don't really have the option of participating in the system and have fallen through the cracks because of their ethnicity or legal residency status or because they live in some poor third world country and aren't able?

Seems to me that the technocopian contingent who regularly post on here are deeply conservative. They seek to preserve BAU at all costs, by means of whatever pet techno-fix they prefer. Seeking to preserve BAU strikes me as being the essence of conservatism. They want to keep flying around the world on camelina oil fueled jets, even if it means contributing to third world starvation, for instance. Or damming every free-flowing river to provide electricity for electric trains so they can still get across the continent in time for grandma's funeral. Or building millions of wind turbines to power their electric can openers & toothbrushes even if doing so contributes to the demise of birds & bats that eat mosquitos causing the resurgence of malaria. How much more conservative can one get?

No, those are liberals in congress and around the country. Are not our liberal president and his staff pushing for BAU? Or should we ignore that kind of liberalism?

Please do not confuse conservation with conservatism. It seems right now the liberals are trying their best to destroy the earth.

There are many conservatives I know that are moving from BAU to sustainable living like my wife and I. Some may be called survivalists but that ends up with more of a radical gun toting movement connotation than sustainable living.

What makes you think that the current crop in power are liberals? You smear liberalism by associating us with them. The modern Democrats are center-right corporatists. Liberals who believe government regulation and intervention to achieve particular goals like social justice, equality before the law, and amelioration of poverty, would certainly not think that these are justifiable functions of government.

I consider myself neither conservative nor liberal. I am a registered independent. I think for myself, and that often ends up making me too liberal for most conservatives and too conservative for most liberals. Be that as it may, it still positions me to be more familiar with the conservative point of view than many knee-jerk, lock-step liberals.

Thus, to take a stab at answering your question:

I suspect a big part of it has to do with conservative attitudes toward government, i.e., Reagan's "Government is not the solution to our problems, Government IS the problem." If there is one single thing on which virtually all self-designated conservatives agree upon, it is that, at least within the domestic sphere. (Some of them are all in favor of an expansive government when it comes to the military and imperial adventures.) I suspect that the perception amongst many conservatives is that an acknowledgement of peak oil would imply that we face a national emergency. A national emergency of that magnitude, they fear, would result in pressure to expand the national government to respond to the crisis. This they don't want. Strange as it may sound to liberal ears, I suspect that many conservatives would rather not see expansive government initiatives to mitigate peak oil's impacts begun unless and until the crisis is clearly and already upon us, rather than accept even a very small risk that the peak oil call might prove to be a false alarm.

A great many conservatives are also totally sold upon and invested in the notion that human intelligence and creativity and initiative and risk taking and hard work can overcome any limits that nature might throw up against us, if only people are left free to act without government intervention, and are free to reap the reward of profits as the incentive to assure that such happens. Thus, while they might be quite willing to entertain the possibility that peak oil is coming up and might be a challenge, but they are not willing to entertain the possibility that this might be the ultimate challenge that we cannot overcome.

These are just a couple of observations, and by no means does it paint a complete picture.

It should be noted that I think that there is the possibility of reaching conservatives and finding common ground with some of them. This must begin with the understanding that they think differently than liberals, and have different "buttons" that must be pushed. A few thoughts along these lines:

Many conservatives are not totally opposed to the concept of conservation. That goes beyond the two words being cognates. Conservatives hate seeing valuable things wasted, and they especially hate seeing things that should be passed on to the next generation being wasted instead. The thought that we are squandering the "inheritance" of subsequent generations (and Greer expressed this very well in today's article) is one that should greatly trouble many conservatives, if expressed in just that way.

Along those same lines, conservatives tend to be cultural conservatives as well, in the sense that they tend to uphold traditional values and virtues like thrift, frugality, living within one's means, hard work, etc. If we are facing a future of protracted decline, then that means that everyone is going to have to live more thrifty and frugal lives, we are going to have to live within our (declining) means, and we are going to have to work harder. There's some potential common ground here.

Conservatives tend to be patriots, and they are very much opposed to things that threaten the independence or continued greatness of their country. To the extent that peak oil can be construed as just such a threat, conservatives should be more favorably disposed to consider responses that preserve the long-term prospects of the nation.

It may be somewhat surprising to liberals, but not all conservatives are totally of one mind in favor of large corporations. Conservatives are very favorably disposed to small businesses and individual entrepreneurs, as these are the very paradigm of their free market ideology. On the other hand, when it comes to big corporations they often have more mixed feelings. They have seen that big corporations and big government are not necessarilly enemies, but often end up being partners. Big corporations have not always proven to be the loyal and supportive friends of conservatives that liberals think them to be. As I've also said above, the conservative hostility toward government is most directly focused against big, centralized government. When it comes to small-scale localized businesses and small local governments, conservatives tend to look upon these more favorably; at least they tend to do little harm, and are seen as potential allies and bulwarks against an expansive centralized government. Given our emphasis here on small-scale and local enterprises and institutions and local community building as promising strategies for coping with long-term energy descent, this is a particularly promising area for finding common ground.

This is not a complete list, but are a few of the things that immediately come to mind.

In the spirit of knee-jerk lock-step liberalism :-/ ...

"Be that as it may, it still positions me to be more familiar with the conservative point of view than many knee-jerk, lock-step liberals."

Conservatives invented knee-jerk, lock-step-ism. Liberals are much more scatter-brained. Whoops! I meant free-thinking.

"Conservatives hate seeing valuable things wasted,"

What planet have you been living on? Conservatives revel in seeing valuable things wasted. Like the planet, just to take one example.

"Conservatives tend to be patriots, and they are very much opposed to things that threaten the independence or continued greatness of their country."

I really deeply resent the Conservative attempt to label anyone who doesn't agree with them as unpatriotic. In my opinion, many knee-jerk, lock-step Conservatives are traitors, beginning with Bush/Cheney. In any case, they have done more to threaten the greatness of our country than anyone.

PLEASE, I hope you see my point... these labels are not so useful, and I think too they are different regionally. There must be a better way...

..these labels are not so useful..

I agree. Like I posted a few days ago, I once took an online quiz to see how liberal or conservative I was. Answered a bunch of questions about my views on abortion, guns, capital punishment, etc., etc. Said that I was 5/8 liberal & 3/8 conservative. One or two responses different & I would've been 50/50. As with "flood" vs "drought," I think that these liberal/conservative distinctions should just be dropped.

What I provided is not a description of my own views, nor was it a commentary on liberals. It was an attempt to present what I understand to be a conservative viewpoint, as they would understand and define themselves. This is an attempt at observation, not an apologetic. The extent of acuity/blindness that there is in that view is a different issue.

You are right, there are knee-jerk, lock-step conservatives just as much as there are amonst the liberals. I doubt that such conservatives understand liberals any more than such liberals understand conservatives.

Nobody has an exclusive franchise on "patriotism" either. I was just suggesting that this is one "hot button" issue for conservatives, which it is. I truly don't believe that most liberals view it in exactly the same way and respond exactly as conservatives do, but that is not the same thing as saying (which I didn't) that liberals are "unpatriotic".

Hello WNC Observer,

Your Quote: Nobody has an exclusive franchise on "patriotism" either.

In my feeble opinion: True Earthmarines, devout ecosystem realists of 'planetary patriotism', would seem to have an exclusive postPeak lock on the patriotism franchise. WTSHTF: it will be very difficult to come up with a stronger cultural meme to try and overwhelm this thinking.

For example, if some kind of dire black swan hit the US SW and Northern Mexico: I strongly doubt if Cascadia is going to happily welcome 50 million plus people to immediately crash their already declining eco-habitats and cities & towns. YMMV.

I suspect a big part of it has to do with conservative attitudes toward government, i.e., Reagan's "Government is not the solution to our problems, Government IS the problem." If there is one single thing on which virtually all self-designated conservatives agree upon, it is that, at least within the domestic sphere.

I disagree. Liberals and conservatives merely differ on where they want the government to interfere.

For example, many conservatives support "English only" laws, and laws that intervene in doctor-patient relationships (abortion, right to die cases, etc.). The support for Big Brother-type things like Real ID and FISA is more from the right than the left - all in the name of law and order, of course.

Yeah, quite a few of them are in favor of those laws. . . it is just that many of them are against spending any money to hire anybody to actually ENFORCE those laws. I know, it is logically incoherent. As I said, I'm not describing my own position here.

I agree with your assessment on 'conservatives' wanting to implement Big Brother, abolish privacy, make your kids pray to a Christian Deity in public schools, and tell people how there sexual orientation should be, and limit free speech (remember GWB's 'free speech zones' for non-republican protesters...don't see that being done to repub protesters do we?)...

and stacked up to that, those nasty progressives want to 'interfere' with corporations rights to sell you tainted, poisoned, harmful products, 'interfere' with their 'right' to dump toxins into the environment, and 'interfere' to realize the separation of church and state...I'll take the liberal interference thank you.

Thank you for your thoughtful essay,

a flaming leftie interested in learning how to talk with conservatives....

Honestly, I don't see a whole lot of people who would identify strongly as politically Conservative or Liberal posting here.

Myself, I'm in favor of the least amount of government necessary to keep society generally civil and minimize class stratification.

This puts me at odds with every political party I know of.

Hello R4ndom,

Your Quote: "Myself, I'm in favor of the least amount of government necessary to keep society generally civil and minimize class stratification."

Me, too. I read Malthus and Erhlich as a teenager [I am 54 now]: I came to the Obvious conclusion that the best way to preserve our Little Blue Marble was no offspring. The bonus is that fewer people Automatically will shrink Government at every level. Seemed so obvious to me that I thought my entire Boomer Generation would embrace less than ZPG-->I was wrong.

With some luck: let's hope the first USA machete' moshpit occurs at Woodstock, as that would seem to be a very appropriate starting point and location for Optimal Overshoot Decline.

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

My two cents:

Labels like "liberal", "conservative", "socialist", etc belong in the past along with the Temperaments (choleric, phlegmatic, etc).

The only meaningful political spectrum now is the one that runs from Richard Feynman ("Nature cannot be fooled") to Li'l Orphan Annie ("Tomorrow, I love ya").

Most of us here are hard over on the Feynman end.

From the Strahan piece linked uptop, this quote from the IEA people really jumps out:

"Also, oil peak can be delayed by improving energy efficiency, therefore consuming less oil and consequently producing less oil."

So. If the worldwide oil production begins to DROP because of gains in efficiency, the date at which worldwide oil production will PEAK can be delayed... huh?

Does this give anyone else a headache? How do these guys even take themselves seriously?

They probably take their paychecks more seriously than themselves. Organizations select for people like that; team players. They also assume correctly that their piece will be widely read and the rebuttals that point out the inanities won't be.

That actually makes some sense, but it probably not as clearly written as it should be...more plateau, or controlled descent as opposed to uncontrolled descent.

"Also, oil peak can be delayed by improving energy efficiency, therefore consuming less oil and consequently producing less oil."

So. If the worldwide oil production begins to DROP because of gains in efficiency, the date at which worldwide oil production will PEAK can be delayed... huh?

Does this give anyone else a headache? How do these guys even take themselves seriously?

Well, if you discount Jevons paradox, it follows logically. Given fixed demand for the end product, greater efficiency means fewer inputs are needed. So if we can avoid greed (which is how Jevon's operates) it is true. If we let greed win out, then the lower price of the end product in the high efficiency case, means the demand for the end product goes up. If it goes up faster than efficiency then resource consumption could go up.

Also, oil peak can be delayed by improving energy efficiency, therefore consuming less oil and consequently producing less oil

To me it indicates a complete misunderstanding about what 'Peak Oil' is - which explains why people deny it will happen, often the denial also includes comments about the size of the reserves. Peak oil is about the size of the 'tap', an above ground decision, which has to be affordable for the consumers. The misunderstanding may be deliberate because the economic implications are so dire!

I can't see how anybody (including CERA and the IEA) can accurately predict future crude demand/supply if they don't know what the future costs, prices of other goods, availability of credit, wages etc will be!

Wonder why Birol felt the need to clarify his position. Also, why did the big guns 'Lynch, Yergin et al' come out smoking. Was it all just for the 150 yrs of Oil story?

Mr Birol only clarified the peak date, the depletion rate of 6.7% stands. So it would seem that we have found the needed 4 to 6 Saudi Arabias.

I don't think he felt the need to clarify his position. Rather, David Strahan called him to ask him about it, which led to the correction.

(Strahan, author of The Last Oil Shock, has long been interested in peak oil.)

There was a biofuels article on the front page of the WSJ today, that is available through google news:

U.S. Biofuel Boom Running on Empty

Somehow I missed the story that must have come out a while back about Vinod Khosla's cellulosic ethanol company Cello being found guilty of fraud, and the big fall-out this is having.

Producers of next-generation biofuels -- those using nonfood renewable materials such as grasses, cornstalks and sugarcane stalks -- are finding it tough to attract investment and ramp up production to an industrial scale. The sector suffered a major setback this summer after a federal jury ruled that Cello Energy of Alabama, a plant-fiber-based biofuel producer, had defrauded investors. Backed by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, Cello was expected to supply 70% of the 100.7 million gallons of cellulosic biofuels that the Environmental Protection Agency planned to blend into the U.S. fuel supply next year. The alleged fraud will almost certainly prevent the EPA from meeting its targets next year, energy analysts say.

According to the article, the issues in the fraud case were misrepresentations as to what had been tested, prior to building the full scale facility. Also, carbon tests of the material the facility supposedly produced showed it to be at least 50,000 years old.

Some info on the original story, in an article from July 2:


Apparently the company was ordered to pay in excess of $10M in the fraud case.

Thanks to RR's blog for the link. A few more comments from Robert:


Hi TODers,

A little on-the-ground reporting. Yesterday, while strolling through the neighborhood, I encountered this machine:

This is apparently a hydrogen-fueled full-sized pickup. Looks like the hydrogen economy is taking off in a big way! ;o)

I included the cyclist in this photo so those on TOD who look forward to biking on roads free of massive careening vehicles that, quite unfortunately, this future just will not happen. Clearly the "hydrogen economy" (TM) will save Happy Motoring. /sarconol

In any event, I found it interesting to encounter a such a vehicle. Maybe not entirely unusual for Vancouver, BC, but it is the first hydrogen-fueled pickup that I have encountered. The engineering firm that appears to have made the conversion for the pickup is the Sacre-Davey Group. There is some relevant information on their website, including an article about a plan for some hydrogen-fueled busses in BC. I do not work for this company--just posting the link in case someone is interested. In a fossil-fuel starved world, hydrogen-fueled vehicles may have a few roles to play.


Of course, the H2 fuel tank probably takes up most of the flat bed in back. Be careful lifting that lid, too, especially if there are any smokers nearby! That H2 doesn't STAY in the tank very long, no matter how well the tank is made.

Probably so. How is that truck in any way a useful cargo vehicle? A sedan can carry the same five passengers in half the size.

Or if not a tank it's a metal hydride unit under there, that weighs five tons. If it a compressed H2 tank, then it's a rolling bomb. In either case, not a very handy vehicle for hauling stuff in.

If hydrogen automobiles are safe, does that mean zeppelins could be safely opperated these days?

And if safe, would the save much fuel compared to modern airliners?

My old pickup & old scooter are powered by hydrogen, too [plus a lot of carbon mysteriously blended in, too, but let's keep that a secret, shall we?].

My car is powered by breaking hydrogen bonds, but the stuff I put in is a carcinogen, it's a pernicious contaminant of groundwater, the flash point is -45 degrees F, it forms some pretty damn dangerous vapors when it is released at ambient temperatures, and one gallon of those vapors has about the same explosive power as a stick of dynamite!!!

You can learn more about my fuel here.


That's nothing - I run my chainsaw with the exact same stuff!

From above:

Also, oil peak can be delayed by improving energy efficiency, therefore consuming less oil and consequently producing less oil

Sounds like an oxymoron to Me. Don't they mean "running out of oil" rather than "peak oil"? If energy efficiency is allowing the production and use of less oil, wouldn't that put the peak behind and a decline ramp in front?

Second question is not very clear. The area under the curve will be roughly equal in both cases. Anyhow, increased efficiency will be wiped out by increased demand from developing countries like China and India.

Don't worry about oil...Big Coal to the rescue!







I especially loath the looped slide show at the mountaintop removal advocacy site showing the flat-topped mountains hosting factories, schools,prisons, malls, golf courses, etc.

We (those of us who want to transition away from FF and to renewable energies [and nuclear, but that is a subset of the previous group) are profoundly out-gunned.

More scalped mountains, contaminated watersheds, and mercury in my fish, please! Oh, yea, more CO2 to help them plants grow to cover the gravel covered by the thinnest soil left over from the MTR mining.