195 Californias or 74 Texases to Replace Offshore Oil

This is a guest post by Chris Nelder. It was originally published by ASPO-USA.

As the Deepwater Horizon rig disaster continues to unfold, the peak oil community has a “teachable moment” in which it can illuminate the reality of our energy plight. The public has had a crash course in the challenges of offshore oil, and learned a whole new vocabulary. They are more aware than ever that the days of cheap and easy oil are gone.

What they do not yet grasp are the challenges in transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables.

The Greens (anti-fossil fuel agitators) want to end offshore drilling, but don’t realize that their alternatives are in the wrong scale or the wrong time frame to make a difference. The Browns (the fossil fuel industry) are in full damage-control mode while rapidly losing the public trust. Meanwhile, the politicians are focused on who’s to blame and who will pay, while skirting the fundamental problem of our addiction to oil.

We need to get this conversation back on track. Let’s begin with some simple facts.

Can Renewables Replace Offshore Oil?

Source: Energy Information Administration, Petroleum Navigator. Source data.

Federal offshore Gulf of Mexico has been our last great hope for domestic oil production against a four-decade declining trend. Offshore oil now accounts for 1.7 million barrels per day (mbpd), or over 30%, of our domestic production of 5.5 mbpd.What would it take to substitute wind for offshore oil? At 5.8 MBtu heat value in a barrel of oil and 3412 BTU in a kWh, 1.7 mbpd is equivalent to 2.9 billion kWh per day, or 1,059 billion kWh a year. By comparison, total 2008 wind generation was 14.23 billion kWh in Texas, and 5.42 billion kWh in California.

Therefore, to replace our offshore oil with wind, you’d need 195 Californias, or 74 Texases of wind, and probably 20 years to build it.

The Real Challenges of Energy Transition

Then there are some not-so-simple facts.

You can’t simply substitute electricity for the heat value of displaced oil. You must also build an entirely new infrastructure of wires and electric engines and storage devices.

Building that new infrastructure will take decades of concerted effort and cost trillions of dollars…and require lots of petroleum, natural gas, and coal. We simply don’t know how to build solar panels and wind turbines and wires and generators without them.

The U.S. dependency on oil imports has grown steadily for nearly four decades. At the same time, a global oil export crisis has been developing as oil producers consume more of their own output and Asia outbids the West for declining exports. The U.S. already spends around $300 billion a year to import two-thirds of oil supply. Without offshore production, imports would rise to over three-quarters of supply.

Our challenge is far more difficult than most people imagine.

We will have to execute energy transition even as our domestic production continues to shrink, new prospects become more risky, competition for global exports increases, our demand remains firm, and the price of oil goes above our economic pain threshold.

Our only defense against the crushing weight of these forces will be to aggressively improve efficiency.

Ten Ways to Do Absolutely Nothing about Your Offshore Oil Habit

Scale and time-to-market issues bedevil most of the typical Green alternatives.

Hybrid cars currently hold about a 3% market share in the U.S., with a lousy 295,528 units sold in 2009. Sales are growing at an anemic 6% per year. The top selling hybrid maker, Toyota, has just lost the trust of its consumers. Moreover, the sales outlook for new vehicles in general is poor in a country still in the grips of recession.

No one has shown how hybrids can scale to offset millions of barrels of crude per day in under 20 years. As far as I am aware, the only Wall Street model that attempted it was Paul Sankey’s Oct 2009 Deutsche Bank report, which I found wanting. More credible is the model from Bank of America’s Tom Petrie, but it showed PHEVs taking from 15 to 40 years to get meaningful traction against oil demand.

Cash for Clunkers replaced 690,000 vehicles, or about 0.3% of the total U.S. fleet, with an average 9 mpg better fuel economy. About 300,000 barrels of gasoline per day will be saved as a result-roughly the same amount that our oil demand would increase every year under a normal 1.5% annual growth rate.

A real strategy for reducing oil demand would be far more radical. It would aim to replace car and truck transport with rail, shifting at least 25% of the load in 25 years and 50% of the load in 50 years. It would cost on the order of $100 billion per year over a 20 year period to build. But the Obama administration has only committed about $8 billion to rail under the stimulus program, while spending far more money on the dead end of road-building.

Transit-oriented development and walkable communities are excellent strategies, but they take two or three decades to execute, or at least they did in the bygone era of cheap and easy oil and credit. At the moment, most mass transit agencies are having their budgets severely slashed, and nobody is rebuilding subdivisions.

Soft solutions, like getting drivers to slow down and telecommute more often, will accomplish little beyond the margins of demand. Biofuels have severe and poorly-understood scaling issues of their own.

Oil consumption will only be marginally reduced under the American Power Act (around 0.8 mbpd by 2030, according to a recent analysis by the Petersen Institute), with its limp support for alternatives to liquid fuels and its misguided focus on carbon emissions.

Carbon pricing would have been a useful approach 30 years ago. Today it’s a blunt tool, incapable of the surgical skill required to navigate energy transition through 20 years of rough water.

A Junkie’s Reality

Those who would shut down offshore oil drilling might want to consider this: Over the next 20 years, the only real alternatives to offshore drilling are to become even more dependent on oil imports at the worst possible time, or trade it for the environmental horror of tar sands and coal-to-liquids production.

I don’t want to be cavalier about the environmental damage of the oil spill. The Deepwater Horizon spill is a disaster in the same way that liver failure is a disaster for a junkie. And that is our reality: scrounging around back alleys and taking unsavory risks to get our daily fix.

Instead of knee-jerk political reactions to the oil spill, the Greens need to understand the deep, intractable problems of energy transition. Likewise, the Browns need to drop the strategies of denial and secrecy, submit to transparency, reach out to the Greens, and begin building some common ground around our mutual challenges.

This moment of truth must not be squandered. The task of the peak oil community now should be to educate the public about the real problems and realistic solutions. To focus our efforts on what goes into the engine, not what comes out of the tailpipe. And to guide the public debate in a way that unifies, not polarizes. For as Ben Franklin famously said, “We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Chris Nelder is an energy expert who has spent a decade studying and writing about energy and related issues. He has written two books (Profit from the Peak and Investing in Renewable Energy) and over 750 articles on energy and investing, is a frequent media guest, and he lectures and consults with business and government on the future of energy. He blogs at GetREALList.com

Great post! This post sums up exactly why I work in energy and become a member several years ago.
CCPO, sorry I could not comment on your comments on the last posting. I think you summed up where we are and our need to move on. I would love to see you write this book as some have tried without the changes in political reality.
Change will come with or without preplanning and it seems it is happening without it now. Looking at production in Mexico falling off the charts,having to mine syn crude in Canada, drill at a mile deep tells us without a doubt all the easy oil is gone and to think other wise you would have to be a moron or not understand any simple math. The earth regardless of what some think is not a chewy center of crude oil ha!

Excellent comments. As an ex commodity analyst, the task ahead must begin quicker than the markets will dictate. We are on the wrong end of the fulcrum. Effects will be much worse than the incremental decreases in supply versus demand. Whether it is corn, water, or oil.

Media and our politics have almost ruled out constructive action. World wide. We have substituted a blame game as the solution.

Why no talk on here about nuclear power alternatives to replace oil? This is the only alternative power that has the potential to replace fossil fuels.

We need not build pressurized light water reactors. There are other types of reactors which we have not fully explored. A molten salt reactor is one where the fuel is molten and the coolant is not pressurized. Thus is will cost less to build. One could burn ammonia or some other liquid fuel generated by electric power in cars. If battery can not be made fuel cells can use ammonia.

I personally like the liquid fluoride thorium reactor(LFTR). There is some much thorium already mined in tilings and stock piled at governement reservations to last many years.



Why is no one looking at natual gas. As T. Boone says it's cheap, it's abundant and it's ours. Other countries in the world are far more committed to ng for transportation. Granted ng cannot completely replace oil for many aspects of our economy, but between extending the rail system, and switching truck and car transportation to natural gas, we would go a long way to solving the loss of oil imports.

PS: I love the info I read on tod, but I sense many have a blind spot when it comes to NG.

Joe B.

To Ida: The Oil Drum has been around for a long time. You've been around for three weeks, it seems. Assuming something hasn't been discussed on the best energy site on the internet doesn't make much sense.

Use the search function and you'll find nuclear has been discussed extensively and, um, energetically.

Joe, I'm a bit surprised that you've been a member for so long but feel nat gas hasn't been gone over. I feel I have a good sense of the role of nat gas from my readings here. Don't feel qualified to discuss it, so can't help you much except to suggest a re-reading of past posts?


Nuclear will be used, only when it's to late to change. Right now gas, coal and oil fired plants are cheaper then building new reactors, especially research reactors. I work with people trying to fund new thorium reactors and funding is still difficult to get, public or private.

Please vist my friends at muonsinc.com

In my opinion you can never talk about nuclear enough. in this thread no one was talking about it. If you believe in peak oil and or global warming you will see that an energy source that does not emit carbon dioxide and can be made cheaper then coal will win the day. Nuclea rpower as it is now built is not cheaper but it could be.

Natural gas is cheap but it still releases carbon dioxide. As a fuel for cars its hard to store. You either have to cool it to a liquid or compress it to 5000 psi both ways are expensive for the car owners and the gas stations.

As we see in the deep water horizon event oil or natural gas is not without an environmental cost.

In my opinion you can never talk about nuclear enough.

Been done to death. In my estimation the consensus is nuclear has limited use in specific situations but cannot even come close to dealing with the issues involved. Key problems are siting, water, costs (of which you are very wrong), but mostly time. There simply is not time to build the thousands of new reactors needed.

I strongly recommend you go ahead and read all the stuff already written here. It won't change your mind, but it might save you the embarrassment of raising the same issues that have been raised ad nauseum and for which the responses already exist.


CCPO - I have followed the nuclear threads for some years now - I do not think the nuclear threads are done to death. In fact, nuclear - in my opinion - gets less time than most oil alternatives. Note the time spent discussing wind - discussing nat gas - discussing solar, etc.

I think a great many of those who actually go back and read past posts will form a different opinion than you have.
Your key problems -

Siting - modular designs pending US approval are intended to be used wherever fossil fuel plants are used. These designs are being promoted by some of our largest nuclear companies - they are not pie in the sky. They are as real as the next computer chip design, for example.

Water - why are you neglecting the many air cooled nuclear power plants? The ones with the iconic cooling towers, such as in on the Simpsons. Water is a red herring. Show me that an air cooled nuke plant requires more water per MWH than coal for example - remember emergency cooling, fire control etc draws on a safety pool, containment emergency cooling is recirculated from the sumps,etc.
Wind may well require less water - but its really a different animal re intermittency etc, such a large footprint, so much concrete.

Costs - largely self-inflicted & not due to material costs - even so, existing plants have been largely paid off and are very profitable. Costs re decommissioning - Maine Yankee was decommissioned to green field status, said decommissioning was entirely paid for by required fees paid during the plant's life.

Time - mostly time - in time for what? Every answer for fossil fuel replacement appears to suffer from the same issue. It is the nature of our predicament. Nuclear power is the only answer that combines high power density/low carbon emissions, design flexibility. Start revamping regs now, start building now, so that our children or grandchildren may have a chance at what we take for granted.

Time indeed is the issue, as creeping normalcy proceeds onward and we continue to nurse a dysfunctional societal phobia towards civilian nuclear power. A phobia that in its core is about the entirely different issue of nuclear weapons. Over the next century or so we risk a truly destructive slow motion climate catastrophe, while we fiddle.

I think a great many of those who actually go back and read past posts will form a different opinion than you have.

I said it wouldn't change his mind. My point was he wasn't raising new questions, so would be better served to peruse the archives. Nuclear is far simpler than some of the other issues partly because we have a long track record and extensive industry already. There are far fewer unknowns as compared to "renewables." Also, for me, it's all about sustainability. Nuclear isn't, so far as I can see, thus is pointless in the long term and on large scales.

Your key problems

I don't have any problems. We are discussing mostly opinion. Where they aren't opinions (water, siting, e.g.), they are facts. Any problem with either is yours.


Frankly, I would be embarrassed to say that a Salt COOLED reactor uses too much water.

A liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR)operates under low pressure so it does not need a containment building or the redundant safety systems to prevent a melt-down because it is already melted. The fission products are contained and controlled by the fluoride salt. In addition, you do not have the waste to reprocess because it fissions the fission products completely so you end up with stuff that has to be controlled on the order of 500 years not 100,000 years as with a pressurized water reactor. Most of the spend nuclear fuel becomes an asset that we can use instead of a waste to be buried.

All kinds of power plants use steel and concrete and represent a chuck of capital. Wind power uses the most steel per kilowatt generated. Wind power is available to generate power on average about 20% of the time and will last about 20-30 years. Nuclear in online 90% of the time and will last 80 years. A Nuclear power is a costly "son of a gun" so just as any project that is big the costs have to be controlled or it gets out of hand. But, it is a nice thing to have once it is built.

Natural gas is cheaper right now because it is easier to get build. Meaning the regulation is less. However after this oil spill and cap and trade who knows what regulation will come. But it does not use that much less water. I like natural gas as a fuel for vehicles. its cleaner then gasoline or diesel. Storage is still a problem in that application.

Nuclear plants require a lot of water for cooling but very little of it is evaporated as a rule;most of it is simply returned to a river or lake a few degrees warmer than before.

The change in temperature may or may not be a serious environmental issue, depending on the stream or lake ecology.

I checked out the site but I do not see any thing where they are working on power plants. However, I may have missed somehting. I also did not see a relationship with the Idaho National laboratory which is big on power reactor research. Unless you are trying to breed u233 from thorium with the accelerators I do not see the connection with a power thorium reactor. Breeding u233 with accelerators is a very expensive way to do it. Its easier to use spent nuclear fuel from pressurize light water reactors. Nuclear waste in other words. The same reason fusion reactor will not likely make it economically it takes a vast amount of power to maintain the pant.

Sorry, duplicate


Thanks for the kind comments. A couple others also said a kind word or two. Once in a while thoughts just flow out when you are writing. While I don't think that was good writing at all, I do think it was accurate. Glad I'm not the only one.

Perhaps there is hope.

You also give me a segue into an issue that is frustrating me.

Staff: Why the heck are the threads on the oil well shut down when a new one opens? Typically, this is not the case until a post runs off the main page. I very much wanted to respond to Rockman on something he posted in response to me, but could not. It was too awkward to try to pick it up out of context and the opportunity slipped by even though the thread was but a day or two old. It is making a mess of threads and conversations. Is there some technical reason for this?

While I'm at it, the culture here seems to have slipped back about three years with all the new people on board. The rhetoric is getting personal, nasty and notably ideologically slanted. With threads closed, the opportunity to flag posts is lost. I hereby encourage heavy use of the delete/edit functions for a short while to get some balance with the quality-to-noise ratio. Or just leave the threads live, if possible.


I guess Gail edited out the good part ... the part where the US cuts its energy consumption in half by leadership challenging the country to do so and providing 'incentives' if they don't.

Instead of knee-jerk political reactions to the oil spill, the Greens need to understand the deep, intractable problems of energy transition. Likewise, the Browns need to drop the strategies of denial and secrecy, submit to transparency, reach out to the Greens, and begin building some common ground around our mutual challenges.

Incentives such as a 55mph speed limit, mandatory speed governors in all vehicles, a national driving license (that costs a fortune to obtain), an instant $5 a gallon gas tax (with another $5 in a year), a vehicle horsepower fee, outright ban on SUV's and giant pickup trucks outside commercial registrations, car- free zones in cities and towns, a 'one strike you're out' cell phone while driving ban, a nationwide auto medallion program (you have to buy one of a limited number of medallions in order to buy a car); an organic farming initiative, a 'Cash- To- Junk- Yours' program, a doubling of the rail system, streetcars- in- all- cities initiative, 'fuel purchase licenses' (similar to seat licenses in the NFL or feed- in tariffs), a conservation first and last mandate for all of government (including the Defense Department), a 'think small' attitude, a quality versus quantity approach, an end to zoning restrictions on density, a 'narrow streets' mandate (car free), a 100% duty on import autos, to declare OPEC a criminal organization like the Cosa Nostra, a direct challenge for the citizens of this country to put the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia out of business by any means necessary ... as well as its 'like- minded associattes' in Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Venezuela, Russia, Brazil, China etc.

Time to throw down the gauntlet, goddammit!

I personally think the US citizenry is bored with TV, soda pop, greasy poison (food). Change would be different, it would be fun. The 'top down' approaches are more of the same; making the citizens passive 'consumers' of some one else's products (made in China). I believe Americans would rise to the challenge if they had a clear path and the outcome represented something other than the enrichment of a corrupt elite.

The challenge is to reinvent the country by getting rid of all the cars. No more, it's over. What kind of country can we make for ourselves? What a colossal creative challenge! Where are our best and brightest? What kind of new country can be envisioned? Just about anything would be better than what the automobile and oil industries have foisted upon us; the rat race made real, in concrete and steel.

Right now Americans need that challenge. Too many are 'over the hill' saturated with television advertising and 'convenience' and the establishment's demand to sit on the sidelines and consume. Americans are disappointed with Obama as well as with previous government because they chose not to demand anything from the citizens, to get beyond themselves and do something(s) great. Clinton had the country obsessing about his sex life, Bush wanted the US to go shopping, Obama has no clear idea what to do at all ... except hand more cash to Wall Street.

We have an opportunity to do a great thing and eject cars and fuel waste from our country. To do so solves the energy problem. All that is needed is some leadership. Hello ... anyone out there paying attention?


I take it you are suggesting a point that should have been made, not a point that was actually made.

The paragraph in question is in the post. What is missing is your suggestion that we make a major change with respect to autos.

Everything's excellent, Gail. It was a figure of speech, a point that should indeed have been made!

If you want sarcasm to come across in text, you have to REALLY work at it (and even then there will be people who don't catch it).

All valid points Steve. But to answer your last question: NO…the public isn’t listening because they don’t want to accept the implications. And the political system can’t….won’t go against the majority view IMHO. Lots of viable ideas on how to shift away from BAU. But they are absolutely worthless if not applied.

the public isn’t listening because they don’t want to accept the implications

I lent my Blind Spot CD to a friend who I thought might be open minded enough to absorb the salient message.
No dice.
His response?
Abiotic oil.
So far I have managed to move my fellow workers from Denial into Anger-at me. Not a hope of getting them into Bargaining, let alone depression.
It is my head on the block now.

Oh, and the sun is going into a super cold phase and we are going to need all the carbon we can get.

Time to walk slowly backwards.(Thanks Kathy McMahon)

Bottom feeders and sociopaths!!

Oh, and the sun is going into a super cold phase and we are going to need all the carbon we can get.

It is? Can you provide a link?

"Oh, and the sun is going into a super cold phase and we are going to need all the carbon we can get.

It is? Can you provide a link?"


They actually mentioned a return to something like the Maunder Minimum as a possibility.

By the way, I just finished "The Little Ice Age" by Brian Fagan. Eye-opening book for those who think that the climate was always perfect until the Industrial Age. It was eye-opening for me, and I knew better.

And of course, the "CO2 is everything" crowd has no explanation for the Little ice Age or the Medieval Warm period. They claim solar forcing can't account for the temperature swings, but their precious CO2 level was flat, so by their own rules that can't be it either.

I suspect there is some coupling mechanism between the solar input and the Earth's temperature that we are missing.

the "CO2 is everything" crowd has no explanation for the Little ice Age or the Medieval Warm period

...probably unwise to start a debate here off-topic, but the CO2 Is Everything crowd is not overly perturbed by the MWP and the little ice age, as they were most strongly European phenomena reflecting shifting local weather patterns, rather than global climate changes. There isn't enough data from the period to look at global averages, but what there is seems to lie within the range of "normal".

The Little Ice Age was not a local European phenomenon. Here in the Canadian Rockies the glaciers did some major bulldozing of the landscape during that period. The Medieval Warm Period is also evidenced by a glacial retreat in the Rockies.

At this point the glaciers have retreated to the point they are uncovering forests they buried at the end of the Holocene Thermal Maximum, about 5,000 years ago, and that period was significantly warmer than the Medieval Warm Period.

During the Holocene Thermal Maximum the glaciers here may have disappeared completely. Most of them are shrinking now, but we're a long way from having them disappear completely. In fact, I've seen some new ones appear out of nowhere.

The facts are immensely not in your favor. It is truly a religious/ideological issue with you and those like you. *You've* seen new ice/glaciers, so the implication is there's not a global drop in ice/glaciers, eh?

I've no patience for snake charmers. We cannot afford to indulge fanatical, magical thinking on climate. Read everything here:


and here:


If still unconvinced, there is no hope of leading you to reality-based discussion on this topic.


It's hardly a religious/ideological issue with me. It's more the geology. The facts are that I've walked and skied across and past numerous glaciers, not only here where I live in the Canadian Rockies, but in the Alps, the Andes and the Himalayas. I'm intimately familiar with glaciers.

When I say I have seen glaciers appear out of nowhere, I'm not speaking figuratively. I've walked through valleys that were glacier-free, and a few years later, when I came back, there was a glacier there. In fact it only takes a couple of years for a new glacier to appear. And just because it gets warmer doesn't mean a glacier will disappear.

People don't really understand glaciers. They're not static features of the landscape. They're transient and erratic. They come and go, they appear and disappear, they advance and retreat. They bulldoze their way down a valley (occasionally wiping out a village), then retreat back up the valley, stop, and do it again. When they're gone you can still see where they were by the vast piles of rubble they leave behind.

I really don't need someone lecturing me on the dangers of global warming, because I can see what the climate was like in the past from the mountains around me, and talking to the geologists who work here. In the past it has been alternately a lot warmer and a lot colder than it is now. When it was a lot warmer, all the glaciers disappeared and more heat-tolerant plants and animals moved into the area. When it was a lot colder, this valley got buried a mile deep in ice and everything died. Frankly I prefer the former alternative.

It was sarcasm.

Ignore PVguy. Denialists are not to be engaged. Ideology trumps science with them. (Oreskes, et al.)


Rockman, I think the public is way ahead of the establishment on this, the spill has accomplished this much. People connect the dots - the high prices, the need to drill in very deep waters, the consequences of 'errors'. They know that the conventional way fo doing things cannot last. They swim against the media/marketing tide. I keep coming back to Westexas's 'iron triangle' that includes the media. The media is running interference for the other two legs of the triangle ... and both are discredited!

BP is being pilloried but are the other majors that much different? Who can believe these guys anymore? Who believes the blandishments of finance? The entire apparatus is on life support.

I think, enough people are thinking for themselves and are ahead of the curve while the governments and establishments are fighting rear guard actions to defend the past. The implications are severe but only from the standpoint of enertia. At some point, when people have lost enough, they will ask, "What have we got to lose?"

There is no question that more blog readers may be starting to understand what is happening. But those of us who participate in these discussions (or just read them) are not that representative of the public.

The majority of the public is watching "reality" TV (or the Bachelor)and is only vaguely aware of world news.

Rockman, it sounds as though you are a naysayer regarding possible change. I suggest that the GOM is a gamechanger. We are currently in the process of destroying the ecosystem of the 11th? largest body of water in the world. The GOM is the natural resource base of the economy of 20 to 30 million people in the US alone. The economies of the Gulf coast are three legged stools; fishing, oil, and tourism. How many legs of that stool are left in order to maintain the economic health of these people? And what about the physical health of these people? http://www.sciencecorps.org/crudeoilhazards.htm#Disp

And what about the mental and spiritual health of a people who will be heartbroken when they discover that their way of life is gone? Because of fossil fuels, we are accustomed to being able to ignore both our local resource base and our footprint, as our fossil fuel slaves fetch us food from thousands of miles away and take our waste to different countries. Can these people on the coast remain in place and adapt for a future of lower energy that relies more heavily on local resource bases? No. They will migrate away, if not sooner, then later. If not through acute health hazards, then through the chronic, long term, more spiritual health hazards. When the rest of the country ends up with even one million refugees on their doorstep, they will sit up and take notice. The momentum has shifted in this match.

"…the public isn’t listening because they don’t want to accept the implications. And the political system can’t….won’t go against the majority view ... "

If true, this is terrifying. The United States is a country without leaders capable of leadership, doomed to plunge into the abyss because it is incapable of foresight.

Or is there something missing from the discussion? Is it not that there are none who can lead or a people who cannot be led by enlightened leaders, but a government so corrupted by the lobby system that no competent leader is permitted to emerge?

The political system is wedded to the idea that if each individual pursues their own economic interests then the result will be the best possible economic outcome, guided by Adam Smith's "invisible hand" of the marketplace.

The energy industry has been a vociferous defender of this point of view.

Arguing that the energy industry somehow needs to be guided by an industrial policy that involves rational planning for the future is arguing against one of the most sacred dogmas of the United States. It is pretty much a non-starter.

Merril - I'll give you an even better non-starter IMHO: our society is dominated by citizens who are will to sacrifice our military, as well as civilians caught in the cross fire, in order to keep gasoline cheap, among other motivations. The majority may be too gutless to admit it but it’s still the truth IMO.

Exactly, Rockman. After all - who elected the politicians who are too gutless to take effective action on this issue? And why? If skillful and knowledgeable leadership were the only problem, then the "Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less" mantra wouldn't gain a single political supporter.

The problem statement is: The majority of folks in the U.S. are not very smart.

Yes, I am a U.S. citizen.

Yes, I consider myself to be in the minority.

"The United States is a country without leaders capable of leadership,"


Leadership has sunk to the point of being first at the trough is all that matters. Looting the corpse of GM, Bank of America, Citi, and whatever else you can get your hands on. Loot as much as you can, then disburse it to various countries so no one revolution will cause you to lose it all, lock the gates, and sneer at the peons.

I do wonder if the Hamptons are all that safe, or if they have plans to bolt to somewhere else, and where that somewhere else might be. A few kilos of gold in the keel of your ocean-capable sail boat would be a pretty good bailout plan.

In fairness, our system is designed to provide representatives, not leaders. As in, I have viewpoints and priorities, and I will elect someone to represent those viewpoints and priorities. We tend not to elect people who try to get us to do things we don't want to do, and if we happen to elect someone who tries to lead, we make his life miserable until the next election when we kick him to the curb (remember Carter?).

If you think about it, and particularly if you include corporate influence (which is a large and wealthy constituency in itself) the presidency in the US is truly bound to BAU. Waiting for the political system to fix things is another way to do absolutely nothing.

Rock, while I don't have a lot of hope for the public I can point to times when the public made sacrifices, if the choice was presented in a certain way. For instance when the choice was a mushroom cloud via Sadaam Hussein, the public went rah rah for war (some of them) and some young men and women signed up and risked their lives (some gave their lives) and some parents proudly sent their sons and daughters off to war (and some never saw them alive again). All despite the fact that the likelihood of Sadaam nuking the US was infinitesimally small (lets say zero). Likewise during WWII people accepted rationing and sending the youth off to war, in that case with reason.

So perhaps it is not that the people don't want to give up their SUV's (they no doubt didn't want to be rationed during WWII either), but rather that the problem is not being presented to them forcefully by respected authorities.

The politicians won't go against the business interests more than they won't go against the public interest. The public interest is more malleable and could be changed if the politicians were willing to buck corporate interests. The public has shown that they are willing to see Americans die for cleverly crafted lies by politicians and media. The politicians if joined by the media have the power to sway public opinion.

It is possible that the American public are more willing to have young men and women die fighting for oil than give up their luxuries. But perhaps not. Perhaps if politicians, corporations and the media stopped lying they would be more willing to ride public transit than see coffins come back from Iraq or the Gulf coated in oil. I put more blame with corporations and politicians who, having lied to the people, say see the people don't want to give up their SUV's - what can we rich powerful people do....

oxi -- I appreciate your words. I've been lucky to know many honorable and courageous folks. Have known more than a few who have given all. One of the reasons I'm still kicking today. Unfortunately they are not the norm IMHO. In fact, knowing such folks makes the anger I feel all the worse.

All despite the fact that the likelihood of Sadaam nuking the US was infinitesimally small

You mislead about the issue.  The threat was Saddam taking control of the Gulf's oil again, this time with nuclear arms preventing a repeat of Operation Desert Storm.  The magnitude of that problem would be many times as big as the USA's deficit from not drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

I don't think anything will change until nature forces the issue -- terminal decline.

It's just politically impossible or next to impossible.

It's just politically impossible or next to impossible.

That's it right there. When Carter showed courage and told people what they didn't want to hear about energy, they ran him out of town. Being successfully political is like mimicing a feather blowing in the wind - simply move as needed to pressure. Until the masses cry and whine very little will change. That's why most things don't change until there is a crisis. However, in the case of oil, once there is a crisis it might be too late to change things sufficiently to avoid some sort of collapse.

Peak Earl, it is far more likely that among other things the failure to resolve the Iran Hostage Crisis cost Carter the election, than any effort on his part to support alternative energy or conservation of energy. In fact it was only recently that I learned about the solar panels on the White House even though I was 31 at the time. I sure do remember the Hostage Crisis. Given that it was ongoing at the time of the election and that people pay attention to recent dramatic events more than general events, this likely was what ensured his loss.

While his loss by electoral college was large by popular vote it wasn't as huge "Popular vote Reagan 43,903,230 Carter 35,480,115" or 56% to 44%


Through the 1970s, the United States underwent a wrenching period of low economic growth, high inflation and interest rates, and intermittent energy crises.[2] Added to this was a sense of malaise that in both foreign and domestic affairs, certain people perceived that the nation was headed downward. By the beginning of the election season, the prolonged Iran hostage crisis had sharpened public perceptions of a national crisis.[citation needed]

Jimmy Carter was blamed for the Iran hostage crisis, in which the followers of the Ayatollah Khomeni burned American flags and chanted anti-American slogans, parading the captured American hostages in public, and burning effigies of Carter. Carter's critics saw him as an inept leader who had failed to solve the worsening economic problems at home. His supporters defended the president as a decent, well-intentioned man being attacked for problems that had been building for years.[1]


A recent UK TV programme about Iran said that those hostages were held until the very moment that Ronald Reagan was sworn in as the new US president. In the light of what people here have been saying about Jimmy Carter's aim of reducing the US's dependence on foreign oil, this rather suggests to me that the hostage crisis may have been at least partly intended to thwart that plan by getting Carter voted out of office, thus leaving the US in a much weaker position. Is that possible?

Its possible. There's enough circumstantial evidence and sufficient motive to flesh out a plausible large-scale conspiracy, though its almost beside the point now. The one thing that is generally accepted, I think, is that Reagan's people were in touch with the Iranians before the election, and that the crisis was by agreement not resolved until after the election.

Steve, I am paying attention, so that makes two of us. You're thinking the same things I'm thinking as I read this. Chris, your introductory framing of the issue is divisive and, frankly, agitating. I don’t particularly care to placed into either of these categories, thanks. Any functional future of less resources will be cooperative rather than competitive, of necessity.

So maybe you didn’t shake hands when you walked on the court. But you started with a 130 mph serve, and followed it with a precise approach shot. But your put away volley went into the net:

“Our only defense against the crushing weight of these forces will be to aggressively improve efficiency”

Your statement frames the argument in a way that promotes BAU. Improving efficiency is what we have been doing for the past 4 decades. I hear Steve's pain. The more efficiently we use technology, the more power we will use. So what are you proposing that is different? Then you go on to scoff at changes that must and will happen as the energy basis for society wanes, such as mass transit and walkable communities

The real truth is that we must reduce energy use. And polarizing politics and dog-eat-dog capitalism won’t get us there, especially, as you say, from a nation of addicts. We need to focus on both sources and sinks. What goes in the engine and what comes out the tailpipe are both equally important, as the GOM residents are discovering. But the global warming media circus has only distracted us from our basic overarching issue, which is limits to growth in general. On a bad day, I even suspect the corporate spin machine of inciting the issue in order to drum up more derivative magic ponies through cap and trade.

The task of the peak oil community now should be to educate the public about the real problems and realistic solutions. To focus our efforts on what goes into the engine, not what comes out of the tailpipe. And to guide the public debate in a way that unifies, not polarizes.

Your solution is to focus on supply. There goes that word again. Focusing on supply issues gets us more of the same. Please practice your volleys for better put aways.

@Iaato: I didn't invent the divisive framing of the Greens vs. the Browns. I merely described the polarization that already exists, and pointed out that the strategies of neither camp, alone, can solve this problem. We are in complete agreement that a cooperative approach is needed.

The key word in the statement “Our only defense against the crushing weight of these forces will be to aggressively improve efficiency” is aggressively. Again, we are in complete agreement that BAU won't do the job. The efficiency gains of the last four decades haven't been nearly aggressive enough. That's why I say that instead of thinking a paltry number of hybrids will cut fuel consumption sufficiently, we need to think about how to get them off the roads altogether, and transfer loads to rail. I did not "scoff" at mass transit and walkable communities; I said they would take two to three decades to execute. Again, my intention was to highlight the time-to-market problem, lest anyone think that those critically important solutions will be easy, or will comport with shutting down offshore oil now. It's just not that simple.

Again, we are in complete agreement that BAU won't do the job.

I disagree.
Having studied the business as usual scenario in the Report to the Club of Rome, I see that the population reduction is a gentle downward slope.
If we find more resources the population builds to a bigger peak and crashes steeply.

I am sorry that I do not have the skills to show you the graphs.

Let us be careful with our "solutions"
BAU is good because it collapses gracefully.

Steve, if you think aggressive efficiency measures will do, then you are actually arguing BAU Lite, and little more. This is paradigm change time, not patchwork pseudo-BAU. The easiest part, the lowest-hanging fruit, is personal behavioral changes, of which even relatively minor changes would make up for the entire GoM in very short order.

Those posters saying you needed to address this are correct, imo. Gail could probably assist in making a list of changes of some significance, but not life altering, together with the savings they would bring to get us on par with shutting down the GoM. Offering alternatives is more powerful than just saying, "We must change." Perhaps an addendum?


Steve - your ideas are all great except if implemented you would also have to add; livable wage welfare for more than half the population, soup kitchen where ever their used to be a starbucks, triple total police force plus national guard...

With a program like yours no wonder the far right believes enviros want to take away our freedoms. I like driving my big car, which gets as good mileage as the little VW did over 30 years ago, and should have the freedom to buy any vehicle I can afford.

Maybe you are too young to remember when we had a national 55 mph speed limit. Few adhered to it and enforcement was spotty if not absent in many areas. Politicians who advocated stronger enforcement lost the next election.

Higher standards for getting a driving license Is a good idea but making the license more expensive means most rural folks like me may just skip getting a license all together. We do not have the alternative of public transit out here like the big city folks do. We already have a de facto national driving license for drivers of commercial vehicles and making the tests as hard as getting a CDL may take many drivers off the road. Where I used to work nearly a third of all applicants dropped out during training due to the difficulty passing the CDL test.

One irony we bus drivers had to live with was a rule against using your cell phone while going down the road but using the 2 way radio whenever dispatch called while driving down the street was mandatory. I never heard of an accident happening when someone was talking with dispatch or another driver.

Fuel purchase licenses? Call rationing what it is and defend it as rationing. Direct rationing is the only proven way to reduce total amount of fuel used. The internet can make buying and selling of rations easy. What needs to happen is a reduction in total fuel use and not a reduction in fuel used per mile. People should have the option of buying whatever vehicle they can afford no matter what its horsepower or mpg ratings are. Rationing with the option of buying other's unused shares means a whole host of other government interference with our personal and business lives can be avoided.

The Feds already own a big share of General Motors so why not have them mass produce a 40+mpg car and subsidize its sale to low income drivers in exchange for junking their old low mpg beaters.

Bring back the streetcars? YES, YES, YES. An Interstate electrified rail system also. RFD tags on the rail cars with automated scales would be one way to pay for it via a ton-mile charge. Business own the rolling stock while the public owns the rails and wires.

I like driving my big car, which gets as good mileage as the little VW did over 30 years ago, and should have the freedom to buy any vehicle I can afford.

Why? Do you also feel you should be able to, say, put your garbage anywhere you please? Or dump your batteries in the nearest river? or, perhaps we should all have the freedom to buy uranium and keep it in the garage? Perhaps you think, even though second-hand smoke kills and or harms non-smokers, it should still be OK to expose anyone one likes to it?

Do you understand that your choice to drive a big car brings us that much closer to the resource limits that may end everything? Why should that be OK?


I am fully aware of peak oil. I am fully aware of AGW. I am fully aware of exponential population growth. I am fully aware of the unsustainability of our financial system and of our greater industrial civilization as a whole. I am fully aware that continued resource usage and decline may mean starvation for some, and the destruction of the environment as we presently know it.

And I still find myself in complete agreement with thomas deplume and in complete disagreement with you.

I'll take my car, thank you very much. And I have every intention to reproduce, though I haven't yet.

If you want to walk or take mass transit and have your genetic line end with yourself, that's your prerogative.

Why did you write so much when all you needed to write was "Fuck you and everyone else. My wants and genes über alles"?

Zeus, and they wonder why doomers exist. If we're going to say screw it and just try and live our own dreams rather than accept reality, then we may as well disband this site, because it's otherwise utterly meaningless.

I understand yor sentiment but the f word is not appropriate here-we need for this site to be accessible to kids at school libraries.I VERY SELDOM FLAG a comment but this time....

Who said anything about ending my line? I have a child, thank you very much.

You might try answering the question more directly: what makes your choices OK?


Be careful! Thomas Deplume is actually making my case; the public is way ahead of the leadership with regards to energy use. Read the entire comment.

People express themselves and respond to environments different ways. How are all the millions who are spread out across the country going to react to a new set of rules? The new rules are coming or here - depending on the parts of the country - they have only to be brought to the top, added to a narrative that makes sense and rendered fair and honest.

Fair and honest means understanding that the inevitable transitions will be painful, but that the 'do nothing' alternative will be more painful. Cutting half will be extremely difficult but cutting half is already baked into the energy cake. It's also baked into the currency cake which is going to change peoples' lives in ways they cannot imagine. Transition is not an 'option'.

Fair and honest means one set of rules for all, with everyone having the equal chance.

Fair and honest menas that nature votes first because nature is both asset and liability and because nature also votes last. Honest accounting applies nature's real volues rather than ignoring or externalizing them.

Fair and honest means the rules are just that, no exceptions. No cheating, no frauds.

Filling in the blank takes the 'I'm stranded in the suburbs and cannot get to work any more, what do I do???" fear and crafts intermediate steps. It results in a narrative, something to offer besides a hair shirt. A challenge, in other words. Deplume says nothing that shakes my belief that people in this country would voluntarily cut their consumption of all things in half and do so easily if they can have direction, purpose, fairness and honesty and something to aim for besides a short- term profit (for some big corporation).

Well you are opening up an existential can of worms if you demand a response to that question.

We really are talking about thousands of years of philosophy, so a discussion of what's "OK" is beyond the scope of a discussion about transportation devices.

The percentage of people who use cars and how much distance they drive...well, again, that's a different story altogether, and I would guess that both would drop dramatically.

Good luck trying to compare people to thieves, murderers, or madmen just because they drive.


Good post!

Run for President, I recommend as an Independent!

Paul from Halifax can be your Secretary of Energy (Dual citizenship)...

Alan can be your Secretary of Transportation...

Stoneleigh can be your Secretary of the Treasury...

Others can volunteer the rest of the posts...

I'll do it.

Elizabeth Warren will be the Treasury Secretary. William Black will be chief of enforcement and investigations. Susan Webber would be chief of Wall Street regulations. James Galbraith and Brooksley Born would be economic advisors.

Bernanke would be fired or forced out of office and replaced by Sheila Bair. The Fed would be split up into many more constitutent banks and reserve status would be given to natural resources much like the Weimar central bank did post- the Great Inflation (by means of rentenmarks).

I would ask Congress to issue greenbacks to insure that Amerians at all levels had sufficient money in circulation. If Congress refused I would order the Treasury to do the same thing.

Elliot Spitzer would be Special Prosecutor in charge of cleaning up Wall Street. He would do it, too!

Andrew Cuomo would be Attorney General; I would give him whatever resources necessary to clean up the finance networks; "Prosecute, prosecute for any theft, long prison terms serve to warn others!"

Nice lineup!


Incentives such as a 55mph speed limit, mandatory speed governors in all vehicles, a national driving license (that costs a fortune to obtain), an instant $5 a gallon gas tax (with another $5 in a year), a vehicle horsepower fee, outright ban on SUV's and giant pickup trucks outside commercial registrations, car- free zones in cities and towns, a 'one strike you're out' cell phone while driving ban, a nationwide auto medallion program (you have to buy one of a limited number of medallions in order to buy a car); an organic farming initiative, a 'Cash- To- Junk- Yours' program, a doubling of the rail system, streetcars- in- all- cities initiative, 'fuel purchase licenses' (similar to seat licenses in the NFL or feed- in tariffs), a conservation first and last mandate for all of government (including the Defense Department), a 'think small' attitude, a quality versus quantity approach, an end to zoning restrictions on density, a 'narrow streets' mandate (car free), ...etc etc.

...if you added a $5 tax to the gallon, you might reach $8-9 per gallon?
That is the typical pump price for gasoline in Europe these days! I pay $2 per liter today, and a gallon is approx. 4 liters.

What is keeping you in the US from setting a price that will make (virtually) all of the above come true by just adjusting your pump price to the levels we Europeans pay?
We also (in addition) have toll to pay to enter the cities by car (some places) and we are investing heavily in public transport for commuting.

Do what Nike tells you to do, Just do it!

"What is keeping you in the US from setting a price that will make (virtually) all of the above come true by just adjusting your pump price to the levels we Europeans pay?"

Have you met any Americans?

(Sorry, double post)

Everyone reading this blog knows by now that we are in a world of impending hurt. We need to use less energy. We also all know that people will basically spend every penny they have to buy energy in its various forms until there is no more left to purchase. It's time for clear, rational ideas for solutions that don't involve hoping that people all over the world suddenly fall out of love with energy. Here is my take on one well known solution. I want to hear all of your solutions, too.

1)Energy prices need to be tiered according to use.
Tiers should apply to gasoline and diesel purchases as well as electricity, fuel oil and natural gas. For vehicle fuel, the tiers occur when filling the tank: little hybrid tanks don't meet the first tier, vast tanks advance through the tiers. Either you spend all your time going to gas stations for tiny fill-ups, or you buy a smaller, more efficient car.

2)The tiers have to be set at levels that are possible for all users to strive to meet.
Presently many utilities are opting for a low tier at no price increase, and a higher tier with a punitive increase for " the rich". The problem is that the low tier is so low that no one other than a single person in a studio apartment can stay within it. This just ticks everyone else off, particularly because few of them feel rich. Instead there need to be tiers set at realistic levels (average apartment, average 4 person single family home, average larger family home; for cars, 10-20-30 gallons) and tiers need to extend up to levels that include most users. This way even the highest user has a chance to lower use to the next tier and a price incentive to do so.
The money from the tier increases is used to fund transition.

3) For gasoline tiers, it should pay for mass transit (trains); for utilities, it should build solar and wind farms and other alternative sources; there could be rebates for retrofitting older homes and buying more efficient cars. In no way should the tier funds be returned to stockholders in the energy companies themselves.

Let's make this the day solutions were found.

I have been writing quite a bit on the statistics of the GOM oil reservoir sizes and one data point keeps on cropping up -- that of Orinoco. This field apparently contains 1.3 trillion barrels and RGR2 says it lays waste to any power-law modeling that I (or apparently anyone else has done). I know it is all magical thinking but power-law models are strange beasts and lead to the Black Swan behavior that we have all read about.

So I think there is a grain of truth to what RGR2 says but he remains pretty inscrutable as to us figuring out what he actually knows.

If anyone has any insight into Orinoco I would like to hear about it.

The Orinoco oil sands are about the same size as the Canadian oil sands, and contain the same type of resource.

Here is the USGS evaluation of the Orinoco Oil Belt:

An Estimate of Recoverable Heavy Oil Resources of the Orinoco Oil Belt, Venezuela

While the USGS puts the oil-in-place in the Orinoco at 1.3 trillion barrels, and the recoverable oil at 500 billion barrels, this has to be taken with a very large grain of salt. The resource consists of what Venezuela calls "extra-heavy oil", but Canada calls "bitumen", and the environmental movement likes to call "tar". The main difference is that the Athabasca deposits are shallow enough to surface mine, while the Orinoco deposits are much deeper.

Orinoco "extra-heavy oil" is somewhat more fluid than Canadian "bitumen", but that's not very fluid. Using conventional techniques they are going to be able to extract less than 10% of it. The USGS recoverable estimate is based on the Venezuelans using the same technology as is used in Canadian in-situ projects, i.e. steam injection and dual horizontal wells (steam-assisted gravity drainage or SAGD), which is capable of extracting 60% of oil.

That is why the USGS report ends by saying:

No attempt was made in this study to estimate either economically recoverable resources or reserves within the Orinoco Oil Belt AU. Most important, these results do not imply anything about rates of heavy oil production or about the likelihood of heavy oil recovery. Also, no time frame is implied other than the use of reasonably foreseeable recovery technology.

The disclaimer is there because developing the Orinoco requires technology and capital that Venezuela does not have access to. Production of the Orinoco oil sands deposits is going to require that Venezuela become a modern industrial economy with a sophisticated capital investment system similar to Canada's. What are the chances of that happening in the near future?

Venezuela's oil production has been declining rather than increasing in recent years due to its political and economic problems. The place is a political, economic, and social mess.

Thanks RMG,

With my modeling approach, I keep track of items that have similarities. A good analogy to this is Species Abundance Relationships from ecology, where you keep track of tree species but don't include say, moths, because moths differs enough from trees to keep you from getting nonsense results.

I tend to think that Orinoco differs from the vast majority of reservoirs so that I shouldn't tabulate this with the rest of the non-heavy deposits. Orinoco was likely created through a much different mechanism than the migration and accumulation of most of the other reservoirs. So it really constitutes a different "species" of reservoir. But then I could also keep track of all the Orinoco kind of deposits separately. I just don't know how many of these exists and whether it will have any statistical significance.

As you can see I am trying to rationalize and explain the distinctions.

Actually, the Orinoco oil sands deposit and the Alberta deposits were created by similar geological forces involving plate tectonics. In the case of the Alberta oil sands, it was the rise of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, and in Venezuela it was similar forces that created giant oil-manufacturing pressure cookers.

Unfortunately, there were only two places on Earth where the these kinds of forces operated on such a large scale. All the other oil sands deposits are much smaller. There are only two major oil sands deposits in the world, and developing them will be much more difficult than conventional oil.

Thank you -- that makes a lot of sense and it is consistent with the data.

My take is that you can forget about the Orinoco as long as the current Chavez government is in power.

Just back from a two week trip into Venezuela and all I can say is it's a worthless country for business, and this is from someone that has previously worked Venezuela in the 1990's along with West Africa for nearly 20 years.

PDVSA is not paying their bills(again), the exchange rates are a mess, inflation is 30%, and it is next to impossible for internationals to convert local currency into dollars. So what's the point of continuing on. Any service companies that make a fuss or put their foot down, i.e. pay what you owe us or we're not going to work are simply nationalized and the case goes into the queue for international arbitration.

So basically all the contractors are pulling out their services and even if PDVSA nationalizes everyone's equipment, there will be no one to run or maintain it.

Yes and many will say Chavez doesnt have long left to stay, but look what happened in Cuba.

THe Orinoco requires a fair amount of technology to effectively produce. Without international resources the task is really beyond the capacity of PDVSA.

While the USGS puts the oil-in-place in the Orinoco at 1.3 trillion barrels, and the recoverable oil at 500 billion barrels, this has to be taken with a very large grain of salt.

The size range of that "grain of salt" has also been provided.

Unfortunately, the subtext in this rationalization of why we should continue drilling in deep water offshore since we have no choice is that while that while that oil exists there for the taking, then there is no need to really pursue alternatives on a massive scale. So BP and the other large energy corporations invest nothing in the future (including much of their own infrastructure) and continue to maximize their short term profits and make their shareholders happy for the moment, except when accidents happen.

And then we are force fed this tired argument of how impossible the shift to alternatives will be and how unrealistic our expectations - so we may as well continue on our muddle through course, and do more offshore drilling and do nothing really about alternatives. And that "Greens (anti-fossil fuel agitators)" are crazy (nice friendly label, by the way. Fitting for the Tea Party but maybe not the OD?).

Meanwhile we delay the inevitable crash a decade or two, and continue wasting resources.

Amory Lovens was talking about the need to shift away from non-renewables and how long and how much resources it would require way back in the 70s in his book "Soft Energy Paths". His point was that if we started then, we would have had enough energy and resources for this transition but by delaying it, we would risk the situation we now find ourselves in. Had we pursued those paths then, we would be in much better shape now.

Similarly, by maintaining the current status quo, we are screwing ourselves down the road in 5, 10 or 20 years. Thus we need a shift and yes it will take a long time, lots of education, resources, etc. But doing nothing will result in catastrophes in the future.

And everyone will be shaking their heads and wondering "Why didn't anyone warn us about this?"

Offshore drilling only reduces our decline rate. I don't think it'll have much impact on our plateau or when we reach terminal decline.

@Casey: You read the "subtext" that "there is no need to really pursue alternatives on a massive scale" into this piece on your own. I never suggested that.

What I did say is that we need to focus on realistic solutions. The point of this piece was to highlight the scale and time-to-market issues that plague alternative energy. I have agitated for a transition to alternative energy most of my life, and written hundreds of articles and two books about it, so let no one doubt that I'm all for it. What I want to warn against is the thinking (or the sanguine confidence) that incremental efficiency gains and tiny contributions from renewables will do the job. They won't.

We must be far more aggressive in responding to the decline of oil than we have been so far. And we must recognize that building the new infrastructure to run our economy on renewables will require a substantial amount of fossil fuels. If we shut down offshore oil, driving our oil imports from two-thirds to over three-quarters, it will put us in a very difficult position from which to attempt energy transition.

It's true that alternative energy will not let us continue as we are. We have known for over 40 years that fossil fuel would eventually run out and we've done nothing to change. What is needed is a new paradigm but unfortunately new paradigms are usually built on the collapsed wreckage of the old one and I fear it will be no different this time.

"Those who would shut down offshore oil drilling might want to consider this:"

Sometimes I wonder to myself.. Could Obama be any more economically damaging than he already is. And then I realize that while almost everything he does hinders the economy, he actually could be worse.

I mean we have stolen from shareholders of the major auto corporations (and given to the unions). Still, we haven't out and out nationalized any companies.

Still, we won't be drilling in the gulf for several more months and we won't PAY for that decision for several more years.

This is not a political forum per se, so don't think that a lack of comments to your article mean that most people agree with you. We tend to focus on energy technology, energy deployment/implementation potential, energy demand considerations, and energy-specific politics.

TSRA, perhaps you could post this on the open thread once you order your thoughts and provide a thesis, since it appears that you may be wanting to discuss offshore oil drilling?

I have an idea!!! How about an exorbinate tax on the interstate transport of petroleum? Each region would be incentivized to use what is available to them, the Southwest would have solar, the Northwest wind, I could keep my 6.3 liter diesel truck here in Texas, the Northeast could... well, they could, I don't know, maybe heat their homes by oxidizing bullsh*t, Florida could burn the corpses of retirees and recycled sunscreen from tourists, you get the picture; this could work!

Another way of looking at it is that 1.7 mbpd is equivalent to about 26 billion gallons per year.

Gasoline consumption is about 138 billion gallons per year. Therefore, a reduction of about 20% in gasoline consumption would offset the lack of offshore production.

Between 1980 and 2007, automobile and light truck transportation went from 11,162 to 15,179 passenger miles per person per year. Calculated from National Transportation Statistics

So a 20% reduction would not quite equal going back to mileages driven in 1980.

Note that freight transportation grew pretty much in line with population increase and went from 14,930 to 15,262 ton miles per person per year.

Mr Nelder expresses our ongoing post-peak dilemma succinctly:

“Our challenge is far more difficult than most people imagine.

“We will have to execute energy transition even as our domestic production continues to shrink, new prospects become more risky, competition for global exports increases, our demand remains firm, and the price of oil goes above our economic pain threshold.

“Our only defense against the crushing weight of these forces will be to aggressively improve efficiency.”

Along with many other commenters here, my big quibble is with the last sentence: the last two words should be “reduce consumption.” I have no quibble with hybrid and other high-MPG cars, biofuels and other alternate sources of energy, cities-of-the-future for Jetsons in walking shoes, etc. offering no salvation to this generation of vipers from the wrath to come.

(What comes out of the tailpipe is also a high-level concern, but this is a secondary quibble.)

I suggest more consideration of carbon pricing and less of specific approaches. More miles per gallon means doodley-squat if more vehicles log more miles. And so forth.

In ages past, those humungous castles splattered across the European landscape were seldom if ever heated throughout in winter, or illuminated like a cruise ship. Likewise, there is no reason for every room in a McMansion to be heated at all times.

In other posts, alternative energies are demeaned for their lack of on-demand availability. Yet hunter-gatherer cultures, which had food on-demand, tended to abandon that economy for agriculture, etc, even though grains are harvested only once (maybe twice) a year while people need to eat every day; cultures have developed ways to handle that. The wind does not always blow all the time, everywhere, in moderation, but worldwide commerce began with sailing vessels that adapted to the intermittent nature of this source of energy. Folk wisdom regarding fickleness of weather is found in expressions like “Make hay in the sunshine.”

People’s ability to make the best of a situation is amazing, as long as they have some basic understanding of what the situation is. A cocktail party where the subjects of discussion are set beforehand by whatever leaders are seldom interesting. (Just a few drunks, boors, know-it-all blatherers and other jerks can ruin it…)

Carbon pricing could and should be a major component of changing the paradigm.

the last two words should be “reduce consumption.”

David, you'll see that many here believe we need both energy efficiency AND conservation (I certainly do).

Carbon pricing could and should be a major component of changing the paradigm.

I wholeheartedly agree.

Carbon pricing could and should be a major component of changing the paradigm.

If the price of energy is raised, then either:

  • the consumption of energy will decrease, or
  • new supplies will be brought to the market.

An energy tax or a carbon tax is advisable if you wish to:

  • ensure that new supplies will be brought to the market early, in order to avoid market disruption and energy price spikes due to their not being available timely, or
  • preferentially favor new energy supplies which do not involve CO2 emissions.

I'd prefer to see a general energy import tarrif, because I think that the most severe problems are the foreign exchange deficits caused by imports and the potential for market disruption and price spikes due to lack of credit to buy energy supplies from abroad. About $75 / barrel on imported oil would be a good start, and it would roughly offset the military costs of maintaining access to foreign oil, resulting in economically correct pricing reflecting true costs.

CO2 emissions are probably not as immediate a problem, and before cutting them, we should first verify that Gaia is pushed safely beyond being able to return to the average climate of the past few millenia, which involved glaciers depositing Long Island, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket and Cape Cod as moraines.

Does anyone think offshore GOM is an infinite source of oil?
Last year ace said there was 6.6 Gb URR left of offshore GOM oil(just 3.5 Gb for GOM offshore per EIA).
Compare that to Anwar and NPRA in Alaska at 20 Gb.


The only thing more deluded than a Greenie wanting to get off oil is a Brownie, like Chris Nelder wanting to stay on it.

a Brownie, like Chris Nelder wanting to stay on it.

Too funny, majorian. You can say that all you like but it still doesn't make it true.


You spend this whole article castigating deluded Greenies for wanting to transition and then beg the Brownies to join up to solve the problem.

ASPO-USA has been begging Big Oil forever to get on board depletion.
Wake up, dude.
They SELL oil.

If you think oil is effectively running out, talk to the people who want to transition the world away from oil.

Big Oil is the Enemy.

majorian: I can't decide if you go out of your way to misunderstand what I've said and what ASPO-USA has said, or if it just comes naturally to you.

Read it again. I did not castigate the Greens for wanting transition; I chided them for not understanding the SCALE and TIME-TO-MARKET issues.

I have always been in favor of energy transition. I can't speak for all of ASPO-USA, but I know that most (if not all) of them are too.

If you think it's possible to execute energy transition without fossil fuels, I'd like to hear how.

Finally: You have shown up on TOD repeatedly over the years to accuse me of being a Big Oil supporter, of wanting to stay on oil, and of being opposed to renewables. Nothing could be further from the truth (if it were, would I have spent three years working in the solar industry?). So I challenge you again to find anything I have written to back up your accusations. Here's the link to nearly everything I have written and said about energy over the past decade: GetREALList. You have nearly 800 articles and two books to explore, including the book Investing in Renewable Energy. Go ahead--find one statement where I have said we should not attempt energy transition and stay on oil. You won't find it. Your accusations are simply and completely false.

Here is a useful equation I derived for estimating production.

Total = MaxRank * C * (ln(MaxSize/C) - 1)

For USA GOM so far, MaxRank is around 10,000 wells, C is the median reservoir size of about 0.3 million barrels, and MaxSize is 1000 million barrels (ThunderHorse).
So I get 21 billion barrels.

This is very important because it illustrates how many more wells we have to add based on prior evidence.

By the way, a pet peeve of mine is to never call the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by its acronym, otherwise you make the mistake of referring to it as "Anwar" which makes it sound like an Egyption president. And we all know how much Americans dislike places with foreign sounding names.


Interesting equation, WHT. Useful indeed. But (you knew this was coming) the important question w.r.t. offshore drilling isn't the reserves, but the flow rates. I'd be far less concerned about shutting down offshore drilling if it weren't the only place in the U.S. (Lower 48, anyway) where one could still find a 50,000 bpd well. Over the next 10-20 years, I believe flow rates will continue to dominate the decisions to drill or not drill.

Our only defense against the crushing weight of these forces will be to aggressively improve efficiency.

As long as our population continues to grow (or even stays where it is now) you can not efficiency your way out of the problem.
In both the short and long term, the only real solution to our energy, water, food, pollution and many other problems is cutting our population to 1/2 or 1/4 of what it presently is.
And the reality is that we can either do this ourselves, or nature is going to do it for us - And we would be a lot better off long term is we did the job ourselves on a rational basis instead of letting nature do it for us on a random basis.
On way to start here in the USA would be to expel the 20+ million people in our country illegally. This HAS been done before after wars to make jobs available to our returning service men and women after major wars. It can and should be done again now - Especially as we have ~10% unemployment in government figures and ~20% unemployment is real figures.

On way to start here in the USA would be to expel the 20+ million people in our country illegally

Without a realistic (and serious) national discussion about population growth rates and resource limits, expelling the illegals would be just a temporary thing, a sideshow, or a "fake firecrew" as Nate would say. Accomplishing it would fundamentally change who we are as a people in a very negative way, and I don't think the benefits outweigh the costs.

OK, suppose you expel 20 million, or about 7% of the US population. How do you propose to eliminate the other 75-150 million?

Call me crazy, but aggressively improving efficiency seems much more practical.

suppose you expel 20 million, or about 7% of the US population. How do you propose to eliminate the other 75-150 million?

The non-immigrant population has a less-than-replacement birthrate.  Also, reclaiming cities from culturally alien (or even hostile) immigrants will permit an immediate reduction in fuel consumption above what's cut by the former immigrants themselves, as citizens take housing closer to urban jobs.

Call me crazy, but aggressively improving efficiency seems much more practical.

You're crazy.  Trying to fix the problem with efficiency while the number of consumers keeps going up is insane.

[dupe deleted]

'Cause this isn't a global issue. And immigrants don't have a net positive impact. (They do.) And the employers employing them - Americans flouting American employment and tax laws - have nothing to do with it. If you were more than just ranting you'd approach this issue differently.


Re: "Therefore, to replace our offshore oil with wind, you’d need 195 Californias, or 74 Texases of wind, and probably 20 years to build it."

This comment assumes we do not "powerdown" and scale back oil/gas use dramatically. Further, I'm not sure the quote is even true? The problem is that *gas-powered vehicles* are the primary use of oil as US citizens, but an even more salient fact is that the military-industrial-complex is the primary US consumer of all oil products. Consequently, your analysis is fatally flawed in failing to take into consideration these two facts about 'US consumption.'

Elsewhere on TOD, I demonstrated how a modest solar array (comparable to one that could power a home) could be used to recharge the upcoming Nissan Leaf. I did so only to demonstrate that it is not impossible for an individual with either a good-paying job or a small inheritance could 'opt out' of the current gas or hybrid or diesel choices.

Certainly, the culture of corruption and the control of the US government by oil and other corporations hostile to renewable energy, mass transit, weatherization, etc. dominate the political landscape, making social change a challenging project. We will need to build a huge grassroots movement to challenge the current ruling elite and their assumptions and paradigms.

Despite the flaws in presentation, I applaud the topic as one I welcome.

As for nuclear, I know that it can generate huge amounts of electricity but at a danger that is vast and not a solution that I believe is sane or responsible. It is not insurable and the federal underwriting of nuclear is a vast, ignorant liability not unlike the bogus 'safety' and 'preparedness' of offshore oil drilling.

We need to end the wars! The 37 billion approved by the House yesterday is an example of the insanity of the current regime's suicidal approach--they have no 'Plan B'.

Maybe this is a good time to review Lester Brown's _Plan B_?


Plan B 4.0

TOD should ask Lester Brown to write an intro to his latest version.

I am puzzled by the paucity of well-informed visionaries on this site and the preponderance of those who seem to know little about the amazing work that has been done on these issues.

@stiv: Perhaps you thought I was suggesting that offshore oil should be replaced with wind. I was not. I made no comment or implication about powering down, or deliberate conservation either. What I did say was: "You can’t simply substitute electricity for the heat value of displaced oil. You must also build an entirely new infrastructure of wires and electric engines and storage devices." So I'm not sure where you thought my analysis was "fatally flawed."

In case you missed it, the only point of this piece was to highlight the SCALE and TIME-TO-MARKET issues of energy transition, since a great many people apparently do not comprehend them...including the wonderful and well-intentioned visionaries like Brown, Lovins, and McKibben, whose work am I quite familiar with.

an even more salient fact is that the military-industrial-complex is the primary US consumer of all oil products.

Actually, individual drivers are the primary consumer of oil products, and they are the ones who are the main source of the consumption problem.

Industry can and will switch fuel sources as economics dictate. If oil is cheap, they will use oil, if wind is cheaper they will use wind. The military needs oil, but not that much, and if they run short they will preempt the civilian sources as necessary.

It is the individual citizen who is the problem. Or as to quote Walt Kelly in Pogo: "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Here is an interesting article in the Energy Bulletin from 2007 regarding U.S. DoD energy consumption:


Chris - are you familiar with the National Academy's Transitions to Alternative Transportation Technologies--Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles study?

PHEVs will have little impact on oil consumption before 2030 because there will not be enough of them in the fleet. More substantial reductions could be achieved by 2050. PHEV-10s will reduce oil consumption only slightly more than can be achieved by HEVs. A PHEV-10 is expected to use about 20 percent less gasoline than an equivalent HEV, saving about 70 gallons in 15,000 miles. Forty million PHEV-10s would save a total of about 0.2 million barrels of oil per day. The current light-duty vehicle fleet uses about 9 million barrels per day. PHEV-40s will consume about 55 percent less gasoline than equivalent HEVs, saving more than 200 gallons of gasoline per year per vehicle.

I've collected some data on vehicle sales/MSRP to gauge how affordable hybrids are, here's a link if you're interested: Autos - MSRP and Sales.ods. Trimming transportation consumption seems to be the only ace left; recall Dargay and Gately's study (pdf) published this Feb analyzing how most of the easy transitions have already been done by OECD - switching away from fuel oil especially. So many commentators seem to think a rigorous dose of CAFE will magically send us back down to $20/bbl again, completely ignoring the ramifications for E&P for a start. I'd love to see more analysis of how hybrids could make an impact, but just don't have the time to spare lately.

My bets are on eBikes for short trips, when shortage manifests itself for real. A consumer rush to eBikes and scooters is a given when the price spikes once again.

KLR: Hadn't seen that. Useful data & links - thank you! I'll check 'em out.

Definitely with you on the two-wheeled rush - get long bikes!!

Some explanation: the detailed vehicle sales info is from MotorIntelligence, only available with a subscription. My runaround for this was to simply search for "Camry filetype:xls". Sure enough there the files were on some server.

"Yahoo," "2004," and "col.edu" were various files I dug up looking for MSRP info. The MSRP data I wound up using came from the MSN website. This didn't cover all models so I fudged a bit, searching for prices for various models. It's all in the general ballpark. I made a few charts, say on Sheet7, showing base price/maximum price/sales for March. Surprisingly robust sales for models like the Mercedes Benz SL. I had no luck finding any studies concerning buyer income vs MSRP or the like, though.

All of this is of import regarding how (PH)EVs or hybrids can make inroads into the marketplace, the big mystery for me at this point. About all I can think of to compare in history is how LDVs swamped sales over the last 30 years; could you compare their progress to what it would take to ramp up production of these high mileage vehicles? Will consumers retain interest in them even when prices crash?

And, most importantly, how much will they really conserve oil? I'm still at a loss to figure what a Volt using no oil (we'll give them the benefit of the doubt) will really save. Something like 10% of VMT is from brand new cars so it's displacing what? 60k/8million/10*9kbpd? My wag for cumulative hybrid sales is that they save perhaps 30 kb/d; boosters throw out much greater numbers, but they sure don't show up in the product supplied figures. The vehicle fleet is perhaps so large it will just take that much longer to change things. Perhaps Hirsch was off by a decade!

Here's another spreadsheet for Hybrid Vehicle Sales. Hope you can put all this to use, and thanks for showing your appreciation.

Unfortunately I don't think past adoption rates are a useful guide here, simply because in all likelihood we've seen the end of economic growth due to shrinking (importable) primary energy supply. If the U.S. is headed for a "lost decade" or worse, nominal unemployment stays above 10% and real unemployment stays above 20%, I don't see too many people rushing out to buy new vehicles. It's far more likely that they'll spend $1000/yr on repairs to keep the ol' clunker running just a little longer. High sales for luxury vehicles is a telltale that the buyers are those with substantial disposable income. The "more probable" 13 million PHEVs by 2030 scenario in the Nat'l Academy study feels about right under normal circumstances, but I am dubious that we'll see a return to normality any time soon.

Among my unhappy scenarios is one where gasoline prices push past $4/gal without a real economic recovery, in which case high gasoline prices fail to encourage any substantial adoption rates of high efficiency vehicles. So while these are useful stats for "what if" scenarios, I think the reality will be considerably more constrained.

If I had to guess, I'd bet that fuel consumption in the U.S. will be reduced more by people simply not driving than from any sudden increase in PHEVs/hybrids on the road.

Speaking of lost decades, I was going to throw in some info about Japan, when I noticed Staniford has a new post on China as Japan/Korea? This keying off an article of Steven Kopits's which speculates that China's growing consumption of oil is seriously being underestimated by the EIA.

According to BP Japan has mostly shed middle distillates the last few years; throughout the 90's they primarily reduced demand via moving away from fuel oil. China's consumption of fuel oil as a percentage of their total is now lower than Japan's, which raises my eyebrows - they've really cracked the whip moving away from burning oil, unfortunately to mostly coal.

I have the EIA numbers for individual streams and want to see in greater detail what Japan did to reduce demand. In their case "Lost" hasn't translated as rigorously de-carbonized. Another less palatable case would be the FSU. Demand there seems to have basically fallen off a cliff, along with employment and life expectancy.

Yeah, there's a luxury market, it's just surprising to me that there are more buyers for the Lexus IS than the new Beetle. How do hybrid models stand in here? Some of these models are available as hybrids, I wanted to break that down a bit as well.

You're right, all of these studies assume a return to some new normal of 10+ million sales annual, and growing. Guess we'll find out in a few years. I've thought that this would make a nice Google Docs widget - plug in your sales figure/year, scrappage, what have you.

In his recent post "The Energy Transition Is Already Underway," Geoffrey Styles offered this interesting calc:

...every million EVs running entirely on electricity would save 31,000 barrels per day of gasoline, or about 0.3% of our current usage, and that's assuming they would replace cars getting today's average mpg, rather than Prius-type non-plug-in hybrids, as seems likelier to me. It's going to take a whale of a lot of EVs to make a real difference, and it's not yet obvious that offering more than the current $7,500 in consumer tax credits to buy them, or handing out more than the billions that have already been given to car companies--including some that have never built a mass-produced car--is going to put a lot more of these vehicles on the road in the next few years than would happen under existing policies that are still playing out.

If you are replacing only 0.5% of vehicle fleet with Evs(1million out of 200Million) AI would expect more than a 0.5% saving because new vehicles usually have higher(200%) vehicle miles travel per year than older vehicles and would be replacing >10 year old vehicles. An exoisting Prius buyer may replace this with an EV, but the Prius will still stay on the road especially if fuel prices rise >>$4/gallon. Furthermore many families have 2 cars to may expect an EV to be used much more than the ICE vehicle for multiple daily trips within city.

If 1million EV are sold per year, those savings will begin to mount up in 5-10 years. Why do we think that only 1million EV or PHEV will be sold per year? I see no reason why most vehicles will not be EV or PHEV when we start to see rationing or gasoline/ biofuel prices reflectging costs of replacing conventional oil.

High sales for luxury vehicles is a telltale that the buyers are those with substantial disposable income.

This is one very good reason to require high-end vehicles to be PHEVs or pay a penalty, so that the future used-car market isn't locked into vehicles which consume lots of fuel.  It also makes the rich buy down the cost of batteries and electronics for the mid-range consumers of the future.

The National Academy study on PHEV is making the ridiculous assumption that gasoline will be <$4/gallon in 2030. It doesnt take 20 years to completely change manufacturing of all new cars and light trucks to PHEV, but it will take considerably higher prices than $4/gallon to be able to sell them. At $10 to $20/gallon the payback on PHEV-40 is rather rapid. Would any ICE vehicles getting <15mpg be sold at $20/gallon prices?

Beginning five years ago, we (my wife and I) decided to cut our energy consumption by half. It began with checking tire pressure more frequently, dialing highway speed back to around 55, taking a job closer to home, and using an electric bike to make short trips around town, weather permitting. We then moved into a smaller, more energy efficient house, replaced appliances with more energy efficient ones. It wasn't a big deal to half our energy consumption and we didn't need to buy a hybrid car or solar panels to accomplish our goal.

Since then, we decided to make ourselves carbon negative through tree planting. We have planted 6000 trees through Trees For The Future and are well on our way to meeting our goals of becoming carbon negative.

It's really not all that difficult to enjoy a comfortable life style, reduce energy consumption, and offset CO2's at the same time without reinventing the wheel.

And the embedded energy and carbon in all the stuff you bought?


That is one of the conundrums of efficiency-based solutions - new technology, new devices, infrastructure replacement and improvement, all require the investment of great amounts of time and energy.

"Just don't do it" is another type of solution, as in, stay home, don't do things, don't buy things, own as little as possible, work as little as possible, use as little as possible, and so on.

The embedded carbon is offset through tree planting and the energy used in production is offset through efficiency of the various appliances purchased. It's a workable solution for those wanting to reduce CO2's and energy consumption while maintaining a quality lifestyle. Instead of driving to the beach, I ride my e-bike and since I am 59 years old, the batteries help climb the steep hills coming back from the beach. http://www.facebook.com/album.php?id=539027739&aid=94636&op=6&s=0&hash=e...

The tree planting costs about ten cents per tree and is tax deductible. Here's the group we've been using for the last three years: http://www.plant-trees.org/


I replaced my previous car (which was all of 20 years old) with a hybrid, and the place where I now live is within walking distance of a train station, so I drive mostly on weekends now.
Unfortunately the nearest markets are just a little too far for shopping without a car - this city was planned based on cheap fuel, and it makes life without a car more difficult than it needs to be. (You can't do shopping easily with a bus, either. Those don't have space for bags, and far too often you have to change buses to get where you're going and home again.)

A friend and I had a good laugh a few years back, when one of the Detroit executives said that hybrids wouldn't sell until gas reached a certain price (ISTR it as something like $2 a gallon) - it had already exceeded the stated price in our area, which this executive seemed to be unaware of.

If we wish to transition our economy toward one that has a ghost of a chance of functioning in the post petroleum age, we must either adopt a command economy that is all knowing and makes the right decisions (unlikely unless GOD is willing to take on the job), or modify the price system to encourage/require individuals to make choices that are sustainable.

If we really wanted to live on an inhabitable planet instead of stampeding toward the buffalo jump, a policy that would move the economy in that direction need not be overly complicated. The basic document should be limited to two pages, and lawyers should be prohibited from writing any part of it!


1- Tax the external costs of the fossil fuel energy system at 100% of their cost to society. Start with a levy substantial enough to get people's attention and transition to 100% within a period of 15 years. We could debate the true cost of externalities for 50 years, or adopt a reasonable estimate and get on with it. For example in the case of imported oil, there have been attempts to catalog the true cost by people like ex CIA Director James Woolsey that place the true cost of a gallon of gasoline in the US at $12 per gallon once the expense of the standing army, foreign resource wars, distribution infrastructure, extra road building, accidental death and medical expenses etc. are factored in. If $12 is the right price, then start with a $1.00 levy the first year, followed by $.60 additional each subsequent year.

2- A price signal this substantial would certainly have the effect of changing energy consumption behavior and investment, but if carried out in isolation it would bankrupt much of the lower middle class and bring the economy to a halt. So, starting with the very first month of the new tax levy, refund 100% of the revenue to the citizens on a completely equal basis to everybody who has a social security card. A check for $300-$600 every month would do wonders for building political support for the program!

The US has the most unequal income distribution of any major industrial country, and a little movement away from an oligarchical class structure wouldn't hurt. However, a revenue neutral tax is not primarily a scheme for income redistribution, but rather a way to use tax policy to change the reward system for energy use. Pricing oil at at its true cost would start a stampede away from SUV's and toward 80mpg vehicles that are technically trivial to build with today's technology. Coal would no longer be the lowest cost fuel if it was forced to clean up its act or fairly pay for its emissions.

I have trouble even imagining a USA where a rational transition to a sustainable energy policy is possible. A country that hasn't had a visionary leader as president in a half century, a congress bought and paid for by corporations, populated by uneducated, self-centered consumers, with an economy run as a casino for the benefit of the financial "Masters of the Universe" would have to change beyond recognition before it could plan for future beyond the great freeway in the sky.

So perhaps its time to start the ghost dance---.

Tax the external costs of the fossil fuel energy system at 100% of their cost to society.

Houston, we have a problem here with inscrutably non-lawyerly prose. The lawyers would have a field day, enriching themselves for years if not decades, arguing whose... ummm... backside to pull the arbitrary external-cost numbers out of...

A country that hasn't had a visionary leader...

Most of the time, most people aren't looking for a visionary leader - they just want to get on with their lives, thank you. Plus, it's like playing with fire: the world offers far too many examples of the wrong kind of visionary leader.

Read before you take up space by posting. I wrote only partly in jest "The basic document should be limited to two pages, and lawyers should be prohibited from writing any part of it!"

That it was only partly in jest was precisely the problem. By leaving the lawyers out of writing it you make them much better positioned to take advantage of it. You can't win, you can't break even, you can't get out of the game.

Oh, and people in these parts often discuss "externalities" very glibly, but when it comes down to brass tacks the numbers have to be pulled more or less out of thin air, so they can be spun any way someone wants.

Should we all be heavily backing Enhanced Geothermal Energy?

Take every scrap of energy used in the USA, coal, oil, wind, solar and switch it all over to enhanced geothermal
and we have only used 0.05% to 0.005% of the available enhanced geothermal energy right under our feet in the US. http://geothermal.inel.gov/publications/future_of_geothermal_energy.pdf page 28, 65, 74)
Extractable Enhanced Geothermal energy is 2,000 to 20,000 times all forms of (primary) energy used in the US in 2005, according to MIT / Government panel ( http://geothermal.inel.gov/publications/future_of_geothermal_energy.pdf page 18 point 2 http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2007/geothermal.html )

Once established, enhanced geothermal energy is endless for millions of years. Enhanced geothermal is a excellent energy source, very very low pollution and it's "base load", the best kind of energy running day and night. Even nuclear (fission) power is limited in the not too distant future.

We "COULD" transition to enhanced geothermal energy if there was the political will equivalent to going to the moon in the 60's. We would need to divert and focus lots of fossil fuel energy towards achieving this.

Enhanced geothermal is when you drill into hot rocks and pipe water (or some other fluid) down to the heat then back up to a generating plant on the surface. It does not require existing geysers and hot springs to be implemented. It can therefore be implemented in many areas of the US (similarly elsewhere in the and world).

Ramp up our energy use, add some good old American ingenuity, have a national imperative (like going to the moon in 10 years) and we could progressively make everything we need from CO2, water and rocks, with enhanced geothermal energy.

Enhanced geothermal does need development research, the MIT study suggested 1 billion over 10 years. It could be wise to spend much much more.

Enhanced geothermal needs the backing of the public to give it the necessary push to make it happen.

Additionally, some coal and nuclear electric plants could be partly or fully converted to enhanced geothermal in a progressive manner, first providing part of the heat and later switching to fully geothermal.

Given the oil industry's ability to drill deep into hot areas and then drill sideways to and hit a pipe drilled in the opposite direction, one can could likely avoid fracturing the ground to capture the geothermal heat from many many locations. Fracturing can cause earth quakes and movements, mostly small but disturbing to the locals. These "quakes" have caused a couple of enhanced geothermal demonstration plants to be abandoned. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enhanced_geothermal_system

With all the enhanced geothermal power available and smarts we could make liquid fuels from CO2 and water.

Now is the time to act and it's up to you and me to make it happen in any creative way we can.
There does not appear to be any powerful lobby in favor of enhanced geothermal energy, just you and me.
(we could vote with out pocket, insist on buying only enhanced geothermal electricity)

So, let us put some of these figures in perspective:

A real strategy for reducing oil demand would be far more radical. It would aim to replace car and truck transport with rail, shifting at least 25% of the load in 25 years and 50% of the load in 50 years. It would cost on the order of $100 billion per year over a 20 year period to build.


The U.S. already spends around $300 billion a year to import two-thirds of oil supply. Without offshore production, imports would rise to over three-quarters of supply.

The U.S. budget for DoD and Defense-related (DOE, NSA, CIA, DHS, more) is estimated to be between $800B and ~$1.0T.

It is a fact that a large part of this budget is to maintain access to imported oil.

In sum, all those who claim that we cannot afford to develop alternative energy sources. AND recapitalize our appliances, vehicles/transportation infrastructure, and commercial/industrial/residential structures to be much more energy-efficient are full of condensed monkey milk.

The vested interests who own the existing energy infrastructure, and the military-industrial-government-religious complex, and the banksters intertwined with all of the above will do everything in their (total) power to maintain BAU as long as possible.

And it appears that the U.S. will Never strictly limit immigration and/or strongly advocate replacement fertility rates/zero population growth.

I mostly agree with the conclusions of this little article, BUT:
This article lumped all offshore oil into one category. Rational analysis cries for a distinction here, between the easy-to-reach oil and the true deep water oil. Where you draw the line is arbitrary for sure, but with no line drawn at all, this analysis is weak.

I dont get all this emotions over the price of oil.

In every country of europe, the price of oil is currently around 1.1 euro per liter diesel and 1.5 eur per liter super (gasoline).

Thats like 1.1 (euro) * 1.25 (dollar/euro) * 3.78 (l/gallon) = 5.19 $/gallon diesel
And 1.5 (euro) * 1.25 (dollar/euro) * 3.78 (l/gallon) = 7.08 $/gallon gasoline

Around 50% of the diesel price is tax and around 78% of the gasoline price is tax.

And the result is that 80% of cars in europe, drive, diesel. (diesel was seen as better for the environment so slightly less taxed then gasoline, however lately the gasoline cars seems to have
made some comeback.. )

And europeans, drive, as a result, on average, in smaller, more fuel efficient cars then in the US. Not that these fuel prices, prohibits the amount of SUV or big monovolume cars on the european roads, there are still lots of people who drive around in this cars, this is partial a consequence also, that around 50% of all cars that drive around in a country as belgium, are company leased cars, with fuelcards payed by the companies, so for these car owners, the price of the fuel doesnt matter as much.

Another indirect result is that the european car companies are in better shape then the US car companies, due to the consistent "challenges", these "increasing over the years" "tax's" lays on the car companies, who are pushed to consistently make cars, who consume less fuel..

For the US government its also a "easy" tax, nobody in its right mind, will be against it. ;) And this BP oil spill, is as good period, as any, to introduce it. ;)

Also nobody will say that, overnight, this tax, will change the total "carpark" to be more fuelefficient, but if 2% or 3% will change a year, then in 30 years, the "carpark" will be more fuelefficient then currently... Or would you rather want to wait 30 years, with fuelprices who will go up and up in the meantime anyway, and then introduce the tax as you will need to do it anyway.. (and you all will be forced to drive european/asian cars ;) )

...around 50% of all cars that drive around in a country as Belgium, are company leased cars, with fuelcards payed by the companies, so for these car owners, the price of the fuel doesn't matter as much...

Bingo! You get a prize of sorts. This sort of thing, often willfully ignored by 'blame America first' commenters, is widely true in the EU and a significant factor in the politics. For many Europeans, swingeing fuel taxes are a safe thing, seen as providing a free lunch for oneself at the expense of someone else. But when the taxes would fall directly upon oneself as in the USA, there is no free lunch goes and it becomes quite a different story. Or as Russell Long said, "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax the fellow behind that tree."

I think you missed a bit my mainpoint.

My mainpoint is, that there is a cutoff point for everyone, with regards to what you are prepared to pay for fuel. Once that cutoff point is reached, the "fuelefficiency" of the motor, when buying a new car, will be the decisive buy"point".

For me personally, its probably 1 euro per liter or the equivalent, 5 dollar per gallon, if the price is less then, that, I dont care about the fuelefficiency or the motor, that goes with a new car.

Finding out what for 90% of the carowners, is the cutoff point for fuelprices, and setting via taxes, the fuel to this new price, is the "easiest way" to make sure that newly bought cars will be more fuelefficient then earlier bought cars.

NOTE: the company leased cars, was a sideeffect of the huge taxes europeans, pays on fuel, companies found out that they could attract the people they needed for a job, by offering the cars as part of their salary package

At 5.8 MBtu heat value in a barrel of oil and 3412 BTU in a kWh, 1.7 mbpd is equivalent to 2.9 billion kWh per day, or 1,059 billion kWh a year. By comparison, total 2008 wind generation was 14.23 billion kWh in Texas, and 5.42 billion kWh in California.

An electric vehicle only needs to use about 20% of the energy content of 1gallon of gasoline to travel the same distance as an ICE vehicle.

US wind capacity is now 35GW( 10GW average) or 87Billion kWh. If all US cars and light trucks were EV, getting the same energy efficiency of the Chevy Volt would need 2.4Billion kWh/day( 100GW average), or about ten times todays wind output, or about todays nuclear power output. Expanding wind by X10 seems very achievable in the next 20 years.


I prefer actual historical production to squishy "capacity" numbers in wind. I agree that expanding wind by 10x in 20 years is within the realm of possibility. What's not clear to me at all is how quickly, and by what mechanisms, we get to the point where all US cars and light trucks are EVs, especially if you believe that a continually constraining primary energy supply would put us in a semi-permanent recession/depression. Right now, vehicle replacement is happening far too slowly to make much of a difference, which is why I would rather see us aim to take vehicles off the road permanently and switch loads over to mass transit, esp. rail.

A step in the right direction would be to require diesel engines for 3/4 ton vehicles if tax payers are expected to support this tax deduction:

"“A 1997 provision in the U.S. tax code (Section 179) provided small businesses with a tax write-off of up to $25,000 for a vehicle weighing more than 6,000 pounds- used 50% of the time for work purposes. The original intent behind this provision was to encourage investments in pickup trucks, minivans, and other needed service vehicles. A far smaller incentive was provided for cars—less than $7,000 over two years.

The explosion of SUV, pickup, and minivan sales in America’s passenger vehicle fleet has turned this small business benefit into a massive loophole in the tax law. Currently, 38 different passenger SUVs including the Lincoln Navigator, which nets a combined 15 miles per gallon according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Cadillac Escalade (16 mpg), the BMW X5 (18 mpg), the Mercedes-Benz ML55 (16 mpg), and the notorious Hummer H2 (estimated 11 mpg) all weigh more than 6,000 pounds. This loophole allows some of the least fuel-efficient passenger vehicles on the road today to qualify for a significant tax break.

In 2003, the Bush administration proposed increasing the tax deduction to $75,000. Lawmakers responded by expanding it to a whopping $100,000 as part of the $350 million tax cut package. Yet Congress did not change the weight-based classification of the vehicles, creating a huge benefit for the largest, least efficient vehicles.

Accountants, SUV dealers rush to capitalize
Around the country, auto dealers such as ‘the Car Guy’ Jerry Reynolds in Texas and hundreds of accountants and online tax management sites have been encouraging small business owners such as doctors, lawyers, and realtors to rush out and take advantage of this tax windfall. One advertisement from Dugan & Lopatka, an accounting firm in Wheaton, IL, reads, ‘Write-Off 100% of Your New SUV? Yes, If It’s Under 100,000!’

According to a November 7, 2003, article in the Washington Post, Dugan & Lopatka were so inundated with phone calls regarding their advertisement they nearly had to shut down their switchboard. Industry analysts predicted a spike in purchases last November and December due to the typical year-end rush to claim the deduction for tax returns.

Senators push for closure of loophole
Several proposals have been offered to fix the loophole, at one point, the Senate Finance Committee staff actually proposed raising the weight limit to 14,000 pounds, enough to disqualify even the Hummer. Bills introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA) would take a different approach to closing the SUV tax loophole. In The SUV Business Tax Loophole Closure Act, they propose that SUVs weighing 6,000 pounds or more simply be reclassified as cars under the tax code.

In October 2004, after the House Ways and Means Committee approved a three-year extension of the $100,000 loophole, a House-Senate conference committee negotiated a roll back in the deduction to its original amount of $25,000 as part of the larger Corporate Tax Bill. While tightening this loophole is certainly noteworthy, it is by no means the end of significant tax breaks for gas-guzzling SUVs. According to an analysis in the Detroit News, besides the $25,000 basic equipment deduction, SUVs will still qualify for “bonus depreciation,” an added write off of 30 percent of the purchase price above $25,000. Beyond that, additional costs can be deducted according to regular depreciation rules, or 20 percent in the first year. For example, a business owner purchasing a Hummer H1, with a sticker price of $106,185, would be able to deduct $60,722 in the first year under the revised rules: a $25,000 equipment deduction, $24,356 in bonus depreciation, and $11,366 in regular depreciation.”

The capacity numbers are not "squishy", but because capacity is increasing by 30% a year, the last 12 months production will be low because some wind farms are only producing for 1-2 months of the last 12 months. Both hydro and wind production will vary due to weather conditions but the important fact is that renewable energy accounts for about 10% of electricity production ( in US), and wind energy is on track to account for >20% by 2030. This increase alone would be enough to power >100million EV's.

We dont have to replace all cars and light trucks, 50% of the VMT are with 0-6 year old vehicles. Many families have 2 vehicles so we would expect most VMT would be with the higher fuel economy vehicle if gasoline prices rise to $10-20 range. The economy can adjust to higher prices, but it does take time, and we will probably have that time.
Another possibility is rationing, to ensure that no more than 10% of economy is spent of oil. Of course PHEV's will be very popular if gasoline is rationed at 3-5gallons/week/vehicle.

I agree that expanding wind by 10x in 20 years is within the realm of possibility.

But in your article, you buried any hint of this too deep for 99% of the readers to notice.  Either you intended to do this, or 10 years of books and articles haven't taught you to avoid gross errors of emphasis.

If we were truly interested in our energy future, we would each take a few of the simple steps to help the situation including:

-Becoming informed and aware by reading, researching, discussing and understanding our options.
-Figuring out ways to make an impact including making those energy choices that would change our lifestyles.

As an example, driving 55mph saves gasoline according to a variety of sources and studies. If that is so, why do we need a law to do what is in our own best interest?

As I note in one of my articles, if politicians won't lead, then we, the people, need to take the leadership role. But, in my opinion, only a truly informed and aware public can do that effectively, and we each seem to be too busy blaming others to take the necessary steps to change our circumstances.

so start a drive 55 movement and see how that goes


Thanks for the link.

...why do we need a law to do what is in our own best interest?

Because at least for the USA, it's a big, diverse country, such that there is nothing for the "we" in that sentence to refer to. Life is about many things, it's not 100% centered on gasoline, and one of those other things is time. For example, on a trip of the right (i.e. wrong) length, it's simply economically stupid to incur a $100 hotel bill in order to save a couple of bucks on gasoline.

Geothermal has unlimited energy. I worked on rigs in the 1970's in The North Sea, Canada, SE Asia and USA. Everytime we pulled the bottom hole assembly out of a deep hole (over 10,000') it was very hot.
The geothermal gradient assures that EVERY deep well hits a great hot energy source. Want more heat, just go deeper. Today's efficient deep and horizontal drilling systems could bring the deep thermal energy cheaply to the surface for making electricity or heating buildings.

I kind of doubt it. Why don't you try doing some calculations? If you can't do the calculations then state all the premises, upfront costs, maintenance costs (entropy), dimensions, transfer mechanisms, and equilibrium values. Maybe someone will pick up on it then. But most of these ideas that require transport of energy over long distances don't pan out.

WebHubbleTelescope, If you are talking about transmitting enhanced geothermal energy, generally it could be produced close to the users reducing the need for long haul transmission and it's complexities.

It's just a matter of going deep enough. Additionally, with this much power it's possible to make liquid fuels so a liquid fuel or gas infrastructure could be used as well.
See more details above http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6649#comment-667318 & http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6649#comment-667654

It would be nice to keep a supply of oil in reserve for it's many useful features in addition to fuel.

I'm thinking transporting the energy along the length of the shaft. All heat exchange mechanisms work via diffusion mechanisms along a concentration gradient which acts as the rate-limiting step. The priciples are well-understood as I have shown here:

Just a matter of somebody doing the accounting for this case. And it has to be a full life-cycle analysis that includes the initial cost and energy of construction.

Great, Blackie! Now how many Planets Earth?

You might be right. Don't high voltage power transmission lines efficiently transport electrical power? Multiple deep geothermal well systems near or inside large northern cities could be used for space heating.
Cold deep water from the Great Lakes is used to cool off some Canadian big city buildings in the summer time.
I can't do the caluations you mention on "all premises, entropy, dimensions, transfer mechanisms and equilibrium values" because I don't know of such matters. However those folks who have successfully designed/engineered/completed geothermal projects can make an impressive mathematical model to pass muster.

WHtelescope & Todfan,
372 pages of analysis to read in MIT / Gov study.

See http://geothermal.inel.gov/publications/future_of_geothermal_energy.pdf

A full feasibility study of how to build out enhanced geothermal would be great to have.
Electrical transmission lines are very efficient and can be improved further.

Us Joe and Jane public needed to get behind such a study

I am happy to see a sort of consensus here.

Plenty of energy (sun, wind nuclear, geothermal)

Technically, no problem (that is, just ordinary
solvable problems)

Barrier is suicidal habit of not putting full cost on carbon based energy, so it looks far less expensive than it really is. People go for low cost, but it misleads into very high cost, not, unfortunately here and now, but there and later.

Solution to that is full costing of carbon-and everything.

Does not have to be perfect, close is good enough- and far better than what we have.

two ways to get there- act like an intelligent community and go and do it, or go for the monastery method used in the dark ages, wherein a bunch of brothers got into a walled keep and toughed it out for a dozen centuries. Along with some sisters, of course.

So far, so good, But one thing kind of lacking here- the obvious fact that right now and right here, we are blowing out the window a very big part of what we spend, doing nobody any particular good at all. I am not just talking about energy, but everything we do. Most of it not worth doing. A fraction of that would get us-acting together as in WWII, where we want to be re energy.

Example- a very simple one- I put together a junky solar water heater, got rid of all the propane for at least the summer, and at a cost about equal to a trip to the city. And, I charged it to recreation, which a trip to city is most definitely not.

How do we get on the right track? I think there is a consensus there too- gotta have a huge disaster that kills a lot of nice comfortable white people like me. Example, a big heat wave that kills most of the people in Vegas and Phoenix. That might do it.

This moment of truth must not be squandered. The task of the peak oil community now should be to educate the public about the real problems and realistic solutions.

It strikes me that in order for any education of value to take place, or for anyone to think that the peak oil community even understands the problems and realistic solutions, they need more than the credibility they currently have.

Fringe components so in evidence at other websites, and more restricted but still occasionally visible at this one, does not tend to increase that credibility. The lack of major geoscience professionals who research many of the issues involved also doesn't help.

If you look at the credibility and following attracted by some individuals, say for example, Glen Beck, its a hard call to make as to what the peak oil community lacks; certainly college degrees, the ability to spell, the ability to construct a plausible chain of cause and effect, stable mental states, etc, are not requirements.

Over on another blog where this was posted, Chris Nelder lamented:

Once again, I am left to wonder how an energy-literate audience could misunderstand such a simple point so badly.

Here's an expanded version of my reply:

Maybe because you:

  1. Understated the actual ability of wind to do useful work by about a factor of 5 (equating wind BTUs to crude oil BTUs)?
  2. Used the 2008 figures, when the 2009 data was available when you wrote your piece and shows wind totals about 28% higher?
  3. Didn't note that after "74 Texases" are trimmed down to about 12, a 40% annual rate of increase would get us there in about 7 years, and even a 28% annual rate would only take about 10 years?

In other words, we're wondering how YOU can misunderstand such a simple point so badly that you made multiple large errors along the way.

But wait, there's more!

Building that new infrastructure will take decades of concerted effort and cost trillions of dollars…

I could have sworn I had some HVDC info here... ah, here it is.  At $500,000/mile, even a trillion dollars of infrastructure would mean around 2 million miles of new HVDC lines (we'd need maybe a few percent of that).  So that's greatly exaggerated too.  After dividing the 2.9 billion kWh/day figure by 5 to get the end-use shaft work, I get a total power of about 24 GW or 10 HVDC lines at ±800 kV and 1500 A.  Even multiplied by 2.5 to accomodate a capacity factor of 40%, 25 2.4 GW lines over 1000 miles would only cost $12.5 billion for right-of-way.  This is about 0.5% of any amount which can be called "trillions of dollars".

No one has shown how hybrids can scale to offset millions of barrels of crude per day in under 20 years.

Of course, the sales figures in the article are for a country where fuel has been artificially cheap for decades.  Add a few dollars a gallon to gasoline taxes, and the market will do the rest; the Prius alone is about 8% of Japan's auto sales.

This goes to the real problem, getting the public on board.  We're still in the complacent phase of the complacency/panic cycle.  When things switch, they'll change really fast.