A Summary of Adam Brandt's "Review of Mathematical Models of Future Oil Supply"

Dr. Adam Brandt of Stanford University's Department of Energy Resources Engineering sent us a copy of a paper he wrote called Review of mathematical models of future oil supply: Historical overview and synthesizing critique. There seem to be quite a few things of interest, so I have summarized the paper, since the author did not have the time to do this. The box quotes are from the paper.

This paper has two goals. First, it provides a systematic review of oil depletion models produced to date. This serves to make obscure past works (often difficult to find) available to a wider audience so as to limit repetition of past efforts. Second, this paper provides synthesizing critique of previous modeling efforts, with the aim of improving future oil depletion modeling.

A major conclusion of the study is that existing models fare poorly at prediction:

Models based on quite disparate assumptions (e.g., physical simulation vs. economic optimal depletion) have produced approximately bell-shaped production profiles, but data do not support assertions that any one model type is most useful for forecasting future oil production. In fact, evidence suggests that existing models have fared poorly in predicting global oil production. The greatest promise for future developments in oil depletion modeling lies in simulation models that combine both physical and economic aspects of oil production.

Types of Models

Brandt describes four kinds of oil depletion models:

1. Curve Fitting Models

Curve-fitting models of oil production have been used since the 1950s. A variety of models exist, but their general approach is as follows.

1. Define a mathematical function to statistically fit to historical production data.
2. Include constraints to improve the quality of model fit.
3. Fit the constrained model to historical data to project future production.

Curve-fitting models vary in the function used, in the use of ultimately recoverable resources (URR) as a constraint and in the usage (or not) of symmetric model functions.

The paper provides descriptions of various curve fitting models, including Hubbert's logistic model.

2. System simulations.

Simulation models (in our classification scheme) differ from curve-fitting models as follows: simulation models explicitly represent underlying physical and/or economic mechanisms that govern oil discovery and extraction, letting the shape of the production profile emerge from these mechanisms rather than specifying it in advance. These models include a broader range of independent variables, addressing a key problem of curve-fitting models noted by Taylor [38]: “No cause-and-effect relationship exists between time and the exploitation of crude oil.”

Thus, with the simulation models, one does not need to assume that the oil will be pumped out as quickly as possible. Oil production can follow demand, or some other approach. Brandt comments that a major difficulty of complex simulation models is the numerous input data that are required to parameterize the functional relationships. Figures 3 and 4 give an example of parts of a simulation model.

3. Bottom-up models

Bottom-up models use detailed field- or project-level data to “build up” projections of production from larger regions (such as a nation or the world). Bottom-up modeling has become increasingly prominent as discoveries have slowed and an increasing fraction of future oil is expected to come from already-discovered fields [52].

The most widely published bottom-up model is that of Campbell and co-authors, produced since the mid-1990s [53-55] using national-level models of production to generate global predictions. . .

Skrebowski has produced a bottom up model [58e61], using a database of oil field “megaprojects” e oil field development projects above a threshold size. Because large projects provide the majority of new oil output, this approach provides insight into short-term capacity increases.

4. Economic models of Oil Depletion

The major subcategories of these are

1. Economic optimal depletion theory, such as studied by Hotelling.

2. Economietic models of oil depletion, such as developed by Fisher and later by Kauffman and Cleveland.

Drawbacks and problems of existing models

1. Curve Fitting Models

Unfortunately, curve-fitting models are often used to make overly specific predictions of future production, ignoring many of the difficulties with such an approach.

An example is given by the excessive importance placed by some analysts on the supposed novelty and accuracy of Hubbert’s 1956 prediction. First, Hubbert’s prediction was predated by at least four publications that provided bell-shaped graphs of future U.S. oil production [13,14,81,82], and no fewer than 7 estimates from the 1950s predicted a peak in US oil production between 1963 and 1973, the approximate range of Hubbert’s low-high predictions (see Table 1). Second, Hubbert’s prediction of a peak in 1970 was based on his high value of URR, which he considered unlikely to be ach- ieved (and which itself was an underestimate). Interpretations of these facts vary: one could argue that Hubbert’s method was not extraordinary, as other methods also came close to predicting the peak date. . .

Another often neglected fact is that all of these studies of the 1950s underestimated URR, some significantly so, despite their reasonably correct projections of the peak date (see Table 1). Cumulative US production has already exceeded 200 Gbbl and significant reserves still remain. Thus, production has not dropped as quickly as Hubbert (or the other authors above) thought that it would, and the US curve is asymmetric [83].

Major issues Brandt raises about curve fitting models include

a. Using exogenous estimates of URR to constrain curve-fitting models is problematic because estimates of URR have been too low in the past.

b. The use of logistic or bell-shaped functions is difficult to support with rigorous scientific reasoning.

c. Production profiles are often asymmetric, with slower rates of decline than rates of increase.

d. Curve fitting models do not account for economic factors, such as demand or resource substitution.

2. Simulation Models

a. Authors often make huge assumptions about the assumed functions and the parameters of the model.

b. Models are often unstable and finely balanced between positive and negative feedbacks. They may omit the role of inertia.

c. While models may fit past data well, they often have poor predictive powers.

3. Bottom's up models

a. If a person builds a model from a magaprojects data base, or similar data base, the person needs more, rather than fewer assumptions about the process--peak production, decline rate, use of enhanced oil recovery

b. It is difficult to model projects not included, like infill drilling, workovers, and use of enhanced oil recovery.

c. The results are generally not reproducible; there is much reliance on the modeler's judgment.

4. Economic Models

So far, they have been kept simple, but their predictive value has been low. They need to include political factors, but it is unclear how to include them.

The Problem of Prediction

Existing models have fared poorly in predicting global oil production. Even for models that are commonly thought to be successful, after-the-fact interpretation of the success or failure of a predictive effort is not easy (recall the discussion above of Hubbert’s successful prediction). . .

This author’s judgment with respect to the predictive value of models is as follows (noting that these topics are the source of much current debate):

1. Simple curve-fitting models can provide a first-order understanding of future production, assuming a given level of URR and no significant shocks to the system (e.g., demand continues to grow at rates within historical ranges). Such models are likely sufficient to predict the decade of peak production for an estimate of URR. The mathematical logic here is that consumption is so high during the years of peak production that minor variations in URR, or minor deviations due to political or economic factors, will not serve to significantly affect the date of the peak [111]. Unfortunately, such a conclusion is often of little practical use: major disruptions (e.g., the oil crises of the 1974 and 1979), or major errors in URR estimates have occurred in the past, and could occur again.

2. More-detailed mechanistic models (e.g., bottom-up, econometric), exhibit greater fidelity in reproducing historical data and are therefore likely more useful for near term predictions. But this advantage likely wanes for long-term forecasts because they are no less “brittle” with respect to uncertainties than other model types.

3. The most promising avenue for increasing our understanding of oil production lies in integrating the economic and physical factors of oil production.

4. There is no scientific justification for making specific predictions (e.g., the year of peak production) with any of the surveyed mathematical models: the uncertainties involved make such predictions of little use. Efforts should move away from making these kinds of predictions, and toward understanding the impacts of the inevitable transition to oil substitutes.

Improving Oil Depletion Modeling

It is no longer justifiable to build oil depletion models that neglect the reality of economic substitution with alternative resources like oil sands or coal-based liquid fuels. Nor should economic models neglect the underlying physical, geological, and engineering considerations that fundamentally drive the economics of oil production. Future progress will require building integrated models that account for both the economic and physical realities of oil production.

I thought there were a number of interesting things in this paper. Let me comment on one that I hadn't thought about before.

Adam Brandt gives examples of simulation models, as shown in Figures 3 and 4 above. His example illustrates how easy it is to put together a model of the future that looks right to the researcher, but is quite far away from what happens in fact. (Figure 4 forecasts a lot of fuel substitution that never took place.)

I know from working with models that people (not necessarily the ones putting them together, perhaps politicians with an idea to sell) often have unreasonable expectations of models. If a person can put together something that simplistically models the past, and comes up with what looks like a sort-of-reasonable outcome, there are likely to be folks who will unquestioningly accept the model as a likely outcome for the future.

All one has to do is make some optimistic assumptions--for example, how quickly cellulosic will become economic, or how high oil prices will go, or how quickly new technology can be scaled up, and a person can develop a model that will "prove" that a solution to our problems is just around the corner.

Fairly straightforward, though some statements cry out for adjustment;

Existing models have fared poorly in predicting global oil production.

The models themselves are not some much the issue as the data by which they are driven.

One of the things Brandt points out is the need for better data. In fact, his section at the end on improving modeling starts with these three points, which I probably should have included:

A number of opportunities for improving depletion modeling have been noted above. Chiefly, these include the following.

(1) Improving data availability.
(2) Testing the usefulness of a variety of models using comprehensive datasets.
(3) Better integration of economic and physical perspectives in integrated, interdisciplinary models.

The models themselves are not some much the issue as the data by which they are driven.

This is also where they come unstuck.

I like to think of all such systems as an exercise in information content. There is information in the data that is used to tune the parameters, but there is information in the models themselves. The information that defines the models has exactly the same value as the parameters, no more and no less. It is all part of the same beast.

The choice of bell curves, log normal curves, various other curves that model various paradigms. One interesting result. If you bundle together log-normal curves, you can teak the parameters to match any shape. (Indeed this isn't that far away from a Fourier decomposition of a periodic function. All much the same deal.)

So, the problem is that you end up in a situation where the information in the model is identical to the information in the data set you are trying to match. When this is true the model is vacuous. It actually has zero predictive capability. All that happens is that as time goes on the parameters are tweaked, and may be added to, and the curve that has gone before remains accurate, but the predictions have zero value.

Models that attempt to start "bottom up" with simulations of the market, exploration etc, still include hidden curve fits. How exactly can the exploration model work out what the earth's real geology is when nobody else knows? It is just a curve fit chosen based on faith.

One thing we can be sure of, there will be discontinuities in real life events. Catastrophe theory leading in chaos - it isn't usefully modelable.

One thing we can be sure of, there will be discontinuities in real life events. Catastrophe theory leading in chaos - it isn't usefully modelable.

Not true ...

Thats not to say chaos based modeling can work even if the underlying real dynamics of complex systems can become chaotic. By this I mean you can't really predict the future time evolution of a complex system from fundamentals since it contains exponentially divergent paths by definition.

However you can go at it another way threshold analysis if you will. What you find for oil and other complex systems is they diverge after certain thresholds are crossed. As and example consider a country that undergoes a revolution the underlying factors that drive the revolution are often in place for a very long time hundreds of years in some cases yet eventually the system crosses a threshold and the revolution happens.

You can even have good revolutions if you will depending on how you define good with things like critical technology advances.

In all cases by taking the approach that the system has to cross some threshold before the new state is achieved one finds that the underlying chaotic dynamics are constrained by a sort of potential created in the complex system itself.

Its this "virtual" physics of virtual forces and potentials synthesis from the real forces plus feedback loops that drives the system. Indeed complex systems literally create their own virtual reality with its own laws.
In short the compute.

Unfortunately I have to bring in Wolframs work to complete the discussion. He is both exactly right and terribly wrong. The problem is he used finite automata to compute the time evolution of complex systems. Beautiful but they suffer even more flaws than chaos theory. Of course if you assume a computation engine you can replicate anything.
This is why physicists correctly disregarded his work and his choice of engine has a lot of problems.

What was missed is that you have to do it this way. In other words complex systems do synthesis of a computation engine so Wolfram was brilliant in discerning this. Just you don't know exactly its real type.

So instead of this approach which is bottom up once you know you have a computation engine then you know regardless of its internal nature it will have boolean states and if/then/else logic.

This causes the creation of my thresholds no matter what the complexity of the system and its these thresholds that are critical in determining the future time evolution of the system.

So by to oil its my claim that if we are in a certain state and oil supply is far more precarious then most believe then we are indeed in the midst of a threshold crossing right now.

Last but not least the problem is the time evolution of this crossing event seems undefined. By this I mean you can identify a threshold but using my revolution example the existence of the threshold does not tell you when the system will cross it. It can be near the value for a surprisingly long time.

As and example think about a ball rolling in a bowl you can rock the bowl and the ball will follow a two dimensional path until it crosses the lip or you can rotate the bowl and the ball will spin around the bowl and can approach the lip at a vanishingly small angle before finally leaving the bowl. In one case it crosses rapidly in one the time evolution is much longer for the same overall force. Obviously one has and extra dimension to play in. The same holds for complex systems you don't know for sure all the dimensions that are at play because by definition they are synthetic thus although you might be able to see something is close when is problematic.

I hope that fairly simple final example give you some idea of complex systems. Of course with a real complex system your not dealing with one ball but many balls and the pertubations are not simple yet you can see the threshold remains regardless of the internal complexity of the system all that changes is the time evolution of when a ball crosses the lip yet this variable was ill defined even in the simple case indeed with classical physics regardless of the motion it can get infinitely close and the actual time of crossing is based on quantum mechanics not classical physics. Underlying our meta complex system is a micro scale complex system :)

At each level uncertainty is introduced until you hit fundamental physics.

But you still have your thresholds which is a hell of a lot more than most people think you can do.

Now what really fascinating is not this but the fact that thresholds imply any complex system naturally organizes and begins to compute something that fact if you will is really really fascinating as it implies any driven system will do something complex. Sorry obviously complex systems are driven i.e energy is continuously pumped into them this does not mean its constant it can vary simply if they don't have energy they simply follow thermo and decay.
And yes there is plenty of thermo in there. Indeed I think people make the mistake of falling into statistical analysis routinely since it applies. As this paper points out so what ? Threshold analysis is correct as thermodynamic or statistical analysis will never correctly predict the time evolution. It does not matter that it applies.

Mean time to failure approaches offer a synthesis that might or might not be correct as they recognize that they are trying to discern when complex systems cross a threshold. I'm not convinced yet that they are correct since they introduce statistics which are dubious.

Real complex systems evolve via the monkey wrench effect. They set up complex interactions and as the approach a thresholds they synthesize a monkey wrench and drop it into themselves. No idiot needed the complex system is itself capable of creating its own monkey wrench and does. The injection or ejection capacity aka collapse is inherent in the system itself and in the end they always compute such a solution if driven towards their thresholds in the worst case quantum mechanics will create one out of literally nothing.

You speak of Yawning Chasms sir, which are the basis of my religion.
It is as though Reality is constructed fundamentaly to thwart its understanding of itself.

Quantum uncertainty in the basement and Chaos in the attic. And thresholds that cannot be crossed.
But in the room where I sit there is calm.
I live in a tiny bubble.
As one approachs the edge of the bubble, things fall apart.

It has got to be an illusion.
Quite a splendid show, just for me.
If my religion is not the illusion, then I predict that our cause is lost.
We may as well try to defy gravity.

Edit: Reading the medieval flat Earth View in wiki it comes as an eye opener that it was assumed that the world was a sphere by Columbus's critics.

I think this article puts a little too much emphasis on the importance of the precise date of PO. After all this precise date will not be felt by anyone and will not even be recognised by anyone until well after the event. The critical parameter that needs our attention and if possible mathematical modeling, is the divergence between the production and supply curves. It is the rate and magnitude of this divergence that will be felt across the world by way of price spikes and economic disruption/collapse. Even if the date of production peak were predicted down to the day it would still leave the considerable variance that exists on the demand side. The extent of this variance could alter economic impact by many years.

You would expect the growth in divergence between supply and production to occur prior to the peak but this is not necessarily a given. It may have expanded substantially in the summer of 2008. The interesting thing about this divergence is that it has/will not occur on a particular date. There has been a differential between the intrinsic demand and the supply rate since oil was first put into production. The differential is what maintains the price. Since then the demand curve has continually dragged the supply curve higher and the supply curve has pulled the demand curve lower. In a highly improbable scenario the demand curve will peak at a similar time to the supply curve and follow it down without significant divergence. But then the tooth fairy may also exist. In any case the actual date for PO is not material in terms of significance to the world events.

Adam Brandt gives examples of simulation models, as shown in Figures 3 and 4 above. His example illustrates how easy it is to put together a model of the future that looks right to the researcher, but is quite far away from what happens in fact. (Figure 4 forecasts a lot of fuel substitution that never took place.)

Now you've got me interested enough that I'm going to have to go read the whole paper, and references as well. Figure 4 is suggestive of a variety of things. US consumption went significantly higher than that forecast. Synthetic production never took off. Both of which could be consequences of not being right about how long OPEC could and would pump oil at around $20-25/bbl (constant 2007 dollars, roughly).


Carter's synfuels project demonstrated viability, but at a price point higher than the market. Saudi Arabia took note, and was very careful to keep prices below that point (about $40/bbl, IIRC) for as long as possible.

Why is this "fits past data very well, fares very poorly for future data" a problem ? I mean, the same could be said about climate data, fits past extremely well, never fits the future ...

Given that we can create something closely resembling a world government based on this kind of data, surely there can be no problem in believing this sort of data in another field ?


This site is dedicated to the discussion of fossil fuel resources - climate discussions are OT.

Just flag it as inappropriate.

I cannot agree. "Climate change" (not resource depletion) still dominates mainstream political discussion. It is a mid to long term issue that depends mostly on the assumption that rising emissions from fossil fuel cannot be halted. In fact, rising CO2 emissions are an oxymoron in a world where fossil fuel supplies might start shrinking very soon in the short term. Access to abundant and affordable energy underpins the whole global economy and yet the topic that the days of cheap abundant energy are numbered is still a discussion among a few anoraks like us.

Re: Hubbert's "If, Then" statements in 1956 (If we have 150 Gb, we peak in 1966, If we have 200 Gb, we peak in 1971), I believe that he was discussing Lower 48 production. The key point about Hubbert's two scenarios is that a one-third increase in URR only postponed the projected peak by five years.

Re: Deffeyes, who estimated, using the HL (logistic) method, global conventional URR at about 2,000 Gb (C+C). His assumption was that slowly rising unconventional production would not be sufficient to keep total crude oil production increasing, and he predicted a global crude peak between 2004 and 2008, most likely in 2005.

Even with the benefit of rising unconventional production, total global crude oil production (C+C) has so far failed to exceed the 2005 annual rate for four years and for 2010 to date, while annual oil prices have exceeded the 2005 annual rate of of $57 for four years and for 2010 to date. This pattern of flat to declining crude oil production, in response to rising oil prices (especially 2005 to 2008), is in marked contrast to the sharp increases in production, in response to rising oil prices, that we saw from 2002 to 2005.

This is consistent with Deffeyes prediction for a peak between 2004 and 2008, mostly likely in 2005 (and an erroneous observation about a prior peak is not a prediction; he erroneously observed that global production appeared to have peaked earlier than what his model predicted).

Note that if you construct a HL (logistic) model of the Lower 48 using only production data through 1970, the post-1970 cumulative production through 2004 was 99% of what the model predicted it would be.

Certainly viewed broadly, the idea that conventional oil production will reach a maximum and decline seems pretty clear. It seems like the questions are on the fine points--does the model actually match up with the right amount produced in the right year.

One can use the models to generally explain that conventional oil production will decline. The iffy area, it seems to me, is when one tries to use them to say that in 2011 (or some other year), oil production with decline by ___ million barrels per day.

None of the models by themselves seems to work that well. That is why we end up using a variety of different approaches to look at questions--for example, Rune looked at whether OPEC spare capacity might be exhausted by the end of 2011, creating yet another crisis.

None of the models by themselves seems to work that well.

Perhaps we are looking at different global crude oil production numbers, but as outlined above the data that I have looked at suggest that Deffeyes has--so far at least--been right about an annual crude oil peak in the 2004 to 2008 time frame, most likely in 2005. I agree that there there were some voluntary cutbacks in 2009, but I think that it is very hard to make a realistic case for any material amount of excess capacity in 2008, given the steep increase in annual oil prices, from $57 in 2005 to $100 in 2008.

In any case, I have compared a production peak to a commercial airliner doing a slow gradual descent for landing, while a net export decline is more akin to a terrifying near vertical dive into the ground. Discussing whether we can predict a global peak, while we are in all likelihood past the peak, in the early stages of a net export decline (burning through our remaining global cumulative net oil export capacity at a ferocious rate), is analogous to debating whether to have tea or coffee--just as the aircraft is beginning to pitch over at the start of a near vertical dive into the ground.

Agreed. When we are likely past peak, so all of these discussions really aren't that important regarding how well curve fitting models fit aren't necessarily that important.

At this point, I would expect we will see more simulation modeling and economic modeling, suggesting what a future scenario may look like (more biofuels, more electric cars, etc.) I think a point he is making is that we should be cautious in believing these.

Gail hopefully you will read through my long post above but to add a bit to it.

The assumption that people make is that a complex system can survive "shrinking" by this I mean degradation of some critical input into the system that drives it.

Now the general answer is yes it can but its really really tricky. The problem is at its peak by definition it crosses a threshold into a new set of dynamics. You don't need complex models for this its dead simple before it peaks it was going up afterwards down. Thus you have a forced change or threshold that cannot be ignored.

Now the real problem is can you respond ? Is it even possible ? In other words once you have crossed the threshold is it possible to effect a response to the situation and minimize the damage or change ?

In my opinion with everything I've done its not possible to respond to the threat if you will of peak oil.
By this I mean there is no action possible in the given system that can actually result in a response that minimizes the final outcome. Thats not to say you can't dream up response scenarios simply that they require you to first alter the system substantially then apply the response. To put it simply all proposal which tout that they are a solution are simply moving the goal posts or tilting the playing field.

The only possible solution is preemptive i.e you cannot cross the threshold while it remains critical.
You have to make it a non event or remove the threshold from the system itself. This means you have to start altering the system long before you even begin to approach the threshold.

This is indeed moving the goal posts or tilting the playing field thats what preemptive means. But you can see it has to be forced into the system not as a response.

I think the inability of mankind in general to accept that sometimes its impossible to respond is one of our major flaws. We are simply to arrogant and believe we can always fix things no matter what. Sometimes we just have to accept we can't fix certain things its literally impossible. Once we do we will finally start acting proactively to ensure our culture simply never gets into those sorts of situations in the first place i.e they recognize that the only solution is a proactive response and simply won't allow the system to evolve down certain paths.

Whats really funny is that before the advent of cheap energy the monetary systems of the world where forcibly constrained since it was clear over centuries of living with renewable resources that any attempt to inflate rapidly would fail. Charging interest was literally a sin. Its not that they did not understand the concept just they knew in their economic systems it resulted in a fast crash.

I bring it up simply to point out that cultures have and can adapt to constraints its not new but also it should be obvious its simply a different culture different from ours its not our culture. We cannot evolve to such a culture ours will have to be replaced. Now we could have don't the replacement early but its still a replacement not a fix. The only addition is I'm claiming that this replacement after the system has crossed a threshold does not change the time evolution of the original system. The replacement is a new system growing after the collapse of the old one. A proactive culture actually understands that there really is no way out.

We don't.

Some of your comments that seems likely to be true:

I think the inability of mankind in general to accept that sometimes its impossible to respond is one of our major flaws.

We cannot evolve to such a culture ours will have to be replaced.

Ideally, we would like to have people who could think through what we need for a new culture, and start working on it, but it is hard to see how that can happen. People can understand a small modification to our current culture--driving electric cars instead of ICE, say. But anything more is hard to deal with. No one is going to think through more basic changes, or put them into models. That is part of the reason the models don't work, either.

EVs are a pretty big change. Eliminate fossil fuel consumption via wind-powered transportation and HVAC, and you've gone a very long way towards dealing with our environmental problems.

Take a close look at "environmental footprint" calculations: you'll find that the majority of the "footprint" comes from fossil fuels.

What you are looking for perhaps are secular Mennonites - John Michael Greer comes to mind.

The 'City Founder' is a part of American legend and is just that. Most American cities and towns were founded by railroad barons or surveyors (locomotives could only travel a certain distance before taking water and fuel) and ponzi- promoting real estate speculators. Our culture is materialism/waste for its own sake and our 'god' is Mammon. Our Rabbis are executives, our oracle, television and our leaders are pushers.

I think rigor is favored because it suggests that machines can be made to follow a set of rules (rigorously) and save us from ourselves. It's part of the 'smart whatever' approach to social engineering. We have smart refrigerators and dumb people. We like the idea of smart machines and rigor because these machines - the 'singularity' - would never hurl themselves into the pit for our sake so the machines new sense of self- preservation would save both them and us at the same time.

Why not perpetual motion machines? Like everything else promoted by industrialists and advertising managers, they are 'right around the corner, tomorrow'. Let's just wait a little while ... and sacrifice Anwar, the Atlantic Ocean, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, Mexico, Chinese Democracy, the Amazon River, Greece, non- toxic food, bats, whales, tunas, rain forests, Appalachia, Alberta, Siberia, Western Africa, AustraliaNewZealandOceanaWhile we're at it ... and the Department of Energy or Intel or Apple or some John Galt- ish 'innovator' will come up with one.

We need supply- side economics, unfettered capitalism and a return to Ronald Reagan/Gingrich/Palinism. God Bless America('s right to waste at a profit).

Let's see what sort of SUV GM can come out with for 2011, let's sacrifice everything (eventually) but our autos and the myths of mobility that have been woven around them are non- negotiable.

We have an advertising- based culture and a waste- based economy and a fraud- based political system completely in the thrall of the first two ... why change anything?

Why not perpetual motion machines? Like everything else promoted by industrialists and advertising managers, they are 'right around the corner, tomorrow'.

Relax brother. Chill. Take one of these pills. They are very good.

I am into LENR

The effect is definitely nuclear. If it is due to a proton absorbing an electron (involving the weak force) then the amount of energy is 4 million times more powerful than whatever it is you are using in your tank right now.
If it is fusion (the strong force) then it is 8 million times more powerful.

So you see, it will all come good.
After the demographic transition.

The assumption that people make is that a complex system can survive "shrinking" by this I mean degradation of some critical input into the system that drives it.

Ah, but oil isn't critical. We can replace it, and we will.

Well perhaps I should explain why its fundamentally not possible.

Back to my bowl model with balls. We assume the lip is peak oil and the balls are the economy.

The problem is once you try and lower the lip or threshold if the ball are going to high in the bowl then they escape exactly the effect your trying to avoid.

In economic terms only a subset of the original balls can survive the lowering of the threshold if you will a significant number still escape and the system crashes. The fact that a subset could survive is irrelevant to the survival of the system as a whole. The false claim of course is that these changes i.e to EV's for example work for the entire system. Their very nature fractionates into survivors and losers. Its intrinsic and does not prevent collapse.

The solution is obvious and quite different you have to go from one bowl to two bowls and merge them. Thus as the lip or threshold is lowered in one bowl the escaping balls are caputured in the new bowl which is large enough to contain them. Thus for a renewable solution to work renewable energy would have had to have been say 50% of our energy sources when oil based energy started to decline. Thats your second bowl and its obviously on the same scale as the first one. Then it does not matter how the first bowl shrinks really as the second just continues to grow.

So you can see solving the problem requires proactive expansion of the second bowl quite early one to ensure its available later on when its needed to catch the overflow from the first bowl.

No single oscillator solution is viable only double oscillator ones and there are intrinsic fundamental scaling laws in force. Not even physics really but very basic math.

Thats the only solution period either you did it or you did not if not then your toast your gonna have to build the second bowl from the shattered scraps of the first one.

Thats of course the second way to solve the problem and its obviously not the best but now its the only one thats viable. Its the enclave solution.

Notice that the real solution aka second bowl is actually achieved by building many small bowls around the larger bowl and getting them to grow and merge until they act as a container allowing a smooth transition. Thus enclaves are always the right solution just its a matter of if they are grown and merged early enough to effect a smooth transition.

Failing that then your absolutely assured that they will be created from the shattered remains of the first bowl and it will take a long time probably centuries for them to build and merge to a point that rivals today.

Now it should be pretty damned obvious that the real solution is to actually never build a single bowl in the first place you never allow the system to merge but artificially or via real constraints simply always keep many small bowls. This is of course the re-localization of economy that many people are interested in.

If you really understand the system then you will recognize that re-localization or enclave formation is the right answer and gives a long term stable solution. Individual bowls my shrink or grow as long as they split and never grow large enough to absorb all the bowls the solution is infinitely stable. You never leave this level.
In many cases its the forced splitting thats the critical factor. Not now but later on our descendent's will have to control population again and force cities to remain finite and small. And of course eventually the number of bowls are themselves finite and population will be static. This does not mean you won't have vigorous changes in the many bowls however the net is always zero. Its the net or sum that matters in the long run.

I don't have anything against your views indeed I would say the majority hold them. However no matter what I do the solution is clear and westexas enunciated a long time ago. ELP. Economize Localize Produce.

You don't need a lot of math to know this some good old Texas common sense will tell you the same thing.
At best I'm simply trying to put some sort of logical framework behind ELP explaining why its the only solution period. As far as EV's go you can see that they may or may not play a role in ELP its obvious they are irrelevant.

Indeed for example for Texas/Southwest I'd argue they should stop exporting their oil and gas and tell the rest of the nation to screw themselves NG used locally in the South is the right answer for the region to transition.
Even though its a fossil fuel. It should however be leveraged to create renewable solutions regionally.
Solar wind etc. But first and foremost they should tell the rest of the country to take a hike.

And just as obvious one huge part of the solution is for each region to take full control of its transportation infrastructure building everything locally it does not matter if its EV's or trains or rail. Each region needs to build all the transportation for that region. And just as obvious inter regional links should be rail/water/air as no other form of transport is cross regional. Perhaps for a time you can leverage the existing road networks but they should be abandoned as rapidly as possible.

As far as each region building its own transport there is really nothing intrinsically wrong with this solution simply the costs need to be underwritten initially to make it work. This of course includes all sorts of safety issues which need to be localized. In general personal transport of all types similar to cars gets the fat finger for a host of reasons. Primarily its a lot easier to build a electric go cart than maxes out at 30mph then a car.
What I'm trying to say is once you adopt the right answer which is ELP then you see that your local transport becomes a mix of numerous fairly low speed personal transportation options with public interconnects. Traditional cars simply are not feasible for the most part. Done correctly regions simply would not allow you to enter with a car regardless of how its powered they would be considered illegal and unsafe.

You can see how with my scenarios EV's as you picture them are not part of the answer indeed the actual mode of transport is not defined its the relocalization of the entire transport infrastructure that is the most critical factor not the form it takes. Although mini-Detroit's are just as obviously impossible thus can be ruled out.

I have to admit, I really can't make sense of your analogy.

I can see that you're trying to model a non-linear phenomenon, but why the bowl/ball model would be a good model for the economy isn't at all clear.

Dude it does not matter complex systems are complex systems economy, ecology, bacterial colonies.
The bowl/ball is just a simple way to explain it. Harmonic oscillators eventually underpin everything.
Complex system simply introduce lips or rims or thresholds into the system.
Sandpiles and landslides work just as well same thing and same solution. The only external requirement to label a system as complex is that it exhibits major changes suddenly which cannot be predicted.
Piles of sand or bowls of balls are necessary and sufficient to explain complex systems nothing more and nothing less is needed. Turns out they have fractal dimensions but thats a different post. I'll just mention it because it matters a lot. Indeed its the trick they use to create their virtual dimensions and states of complexity.
But anything capable of exhibiting a fractal dimension is complex by definition. In the case of the bowl and balls the lip of the bowl acts like a classic coastline problem and determining the true edge is impossible. Thats sufficient to create a complex system. And its important because researches literally get sucked into this aspect never to return. So what its a chaotic system with fractal dimensions get over it. BFD.
I'm serious since many people seem to think that because this is true nothing can be done to analyze the system which simply is not true. Perfect time predictions are intrinsically impossible but again so what ?
The inability to do that is one of the fundamental characteristics of complex systems in the first place.
Its like saying because something is blue you cannot prove its red. True but not exactly useful.

The problem is people don't believe in monkey wrenches not the complex system.
Given that complex system fail spectacularly on a daily basis I'm a bit surprised people think that size or "complexity" matters complex is complex and not simple. But once your complex your complex adding more dimensions or parameters does not change the situation.

But on the same hand simple analysis fails just as badly as it is a complex system no parametric curve no matter how its devised is the correct model its fundamentally flawed. Not even wrong.

The critical factor is the formation of these internal stress like thresholds which do open up the possibility of a shatter or collapse event. Dismissing them is also wrong and means you simply don't understand the system they are there I assure you even in economics if you bother to read history or the papers from 2009 for that matter.

Certainly there is room for arguing if we are reaching a stress or fracture point. Your position stated correctly is that we are not not that they don't exist. Your mistake is not your position but your belief that collapse is not possible. That does not make your case in and of itself wrong however given your starting from a set of incorrect basic assumptions the chances of you being correct boil down to simple luck. The position your taking for the reasons your taking it works till it does not. What if EV's turn out not to work ? What if your wrong ?
I doubt you can even craft the scenario where your solution fails. Which leads back to my assertion that your working of fundamentally flawed logic to begin with.

Write one post on why EV's would fail give me one reasonable scenario and I'll change my position but unless you can formulate the anti-thesis of your argument then your argument is itself simply wrong.

Never one in all of your posts have you ever played devil's advocate and critiqued your own assertions.

In many of my posts where it makes sense I try and give both sides of the viewpoint. I think we are right now in the middle of crossing a major threshold and oil supply plays a critical role. I could well be wrong and freely admit it. But if we are at one or not does not mean such thresholds don't exist they do. Converting the dynamics of a complex system running under its own opaque self made rules into "real" time is fraught with error and technically impossible. But at least I can do such conversion using the threshold approach even if I get them wrong. I'd much rather do the fundamentals right and get the timing wrong but a big part of why its hard to get the timing right is I'm working under assumptions that data about oil supply are a lot more corrupt and simply fraudulent then many people believe. The assumption that the data is wrong and has been for some time underlies my assumption that we are right now at a dangerous point. You can see that I've obviously built up a string of assumptions which are not only difficult but impossible to prove.

But underlying this is the fundamentals of complex systems because collapse is sudden the state right before collapse is very similar to the state before that back into the past. In other words the imminent collapse of the system has to be hidden or the system would have collapsed :) Hiding the true state if humans are involved means fraud. Aka Enron.

Thus its fully self consistent and is finally either right or wrong.

Now between where I am and your assertions is a vast gulf. I have no problem crossing it as it offers a way to critique my own solution and play devils advocate. But just as much as I could be wrong I'm also certain your wrong and the real solution would thus lie between the two extremes.

So put it this way I'm absolutely certain I could be wrong and why but I know for a fact you are :)

Until you can prove to me your certain you could be wrong and how then I can't accept your arguments.

So why would EV's and renewables not work ?
Answer that one yourself and you at least starting to have a real argument for your position.

Harmonic oscillators eventually underpin everything.

Could you expand on that?

Your mistake is not your position but your belief that collapse is not possible.

No, my position is that collapse is highly unlikely, and no good evidence has been provided for it being likely.

What if EV's turn out not to work ?

EVs have been around for 100 years. They've been proven to work in many forms and places. Heck, look at diesel submarines.

I doubt you can even craft the scenario where your solution fails.

Sure I can. For instance, thermo-nuclear war, due to resource conflicts. Unlikely, but possible.

Never one in all of your posts have you ever played devil's advocate and critiqued your own assertions.

I don't need to: there's a plethora of such arguments on TOD.

So why would EV's and renewables not work ?

The technology is very well proven - there really isn't a plausible scenario where it wouldn't work for technical reasons: the physics and engineering are firmly on our side. Failure would be for social/political reasons, like the Vikings refusing to eat fish on Greenland.

I have a hard time with a different part--figuring out what can be built locally. It seems to me that practically everything high-tech (including computers used in running any of our trains) takes materials from around the world. To build things with only local materials means a huge step-down in standard of living. Actually, that is a significant concern.

I would agree that for the long term one needs locally made goods, it is just difficult to see very advanced goods being made locally--including replacement parts for drilling natural gas, for example.

Thats the interesting part actually.

I did not say local materials simply local manufacture. Import of raw materials as absolutely required is not wrong.
Neither is export of goods your location is uniquely able to make or produce. I'm not suggesting Banana farms in Alaska.

With that said the ability to actually produce all goods with only the import of critical materials not basic commodity goods defines a region. Regional economics are centered on this total manufacturing capability.
This mean iron, copper energy food etc the producing/manufacturing hub is itself the definition of a sustainable region. Outside this hub are is the region it serves. Regionally unique resources and goods are whats traded.
Default monopolies if you will continue to exist and trade continues. Just its only in goods or services that are impossible to replicate and are in general not critical. Obviously and initial import and extensive recycling are very important. Certainly some stuff simply does not exist everywhere in exploitable quantities rare earth elements for example. However they can be traded and recycled.

You can see the problem with oil is its a commodity and not recyclable thus the oil trade is intrinsically unsustainable. Wait to long to substitute and your toast.

Comparing correct trade and localization to todays economy is almost hopeless as wage arbitrage is the dominate driver beyond that are environmental rules and government policies. In short it all completely artificial and made up. There is nothing fundamental about it. No real reason why wages in the US could not equal wages in china if the cost of living was the same so what ? No real reason the standard of living need be low perhaps a different lifestyle but certainly much higher than china is possible at competitive wages. And the biggest driver behind high costs of living in the US is housing and transportation costs which happen to be items funded generally using long term debt and extensive payment of interest for some mysterious reason :)

I could go on but I think you know the entire system is one big crock of crap and has nothing to do with any sort of real economic model. A real economy would aggressively protect all local production and focus trade on goods and services that it has a unique and real monopoly over. And it would import similar products. Isolationism would be the norm not and extreme. Real economies that produce actual wealth are extremely localized yet connected together in a manner to produce more wealth in aggregate in the form of luxury items etc.

This does not mean you don't have trade in commodities of all sorts just that this trade is regional and is itself localized around the central regional capabilities. Indeed just to be clear because I say its centralized does not mean that everything is in one place simply that the regional center consists of a complete set of capacities.

This could be a region scattered all the way up and down the Mississippi with different capacities existing along the entire route the Mississippi river serves as the regional hub allowing a larger geographical region to serve as my center.

But the Mississippi river valley and other natural cradles are and exception not the rule.
In general however done correctly you can see that regional economics is based of such natural capacity.
Some areas aka Southern California would be left to the farmers and ranchers and perhaps a few wealthy enough to import almost everything. More likely basically self sufficient estates.

I'm not saying people won't live well away from the hubs and import a lot of goods just that by definition few would be able to do this or their lifestyle would be different. Nice places to visit but not live. And the fact that few could live there keeps them nice.

I could see in time assuming population falls regardless of the rate and as wealth accumulates everyone would have their own personal places to escape either via visiting our as owners. Families over generations would build up owned wealth in the form of lands and farms and estates. Low and for a long time falling population would ensure high standards of living and wages for all. Disallowing idle property or suffering redistribution to the commons would ensure that the wealthy can't simply tie up vast tracts of land or buildings just to hold. Indeed I could see inheritance laws change to only allow children to get the basics each generation just these basics would rise steadily. In time as population continued to fall vast tracts would go idle but they would do so as commons owned by all. Perhaps timeshare rights replace ownership.

My point is that its easy to see how aggressive localization and population control eventually results in a society that intrinsically wealthy not only with enough resources but also with large tracts left alone to evolve as they did before we showed up. But localization followed quickly by population control are the keys to true wealth for all its not to take more and more but less and less for less people until we no longer strain the planet. Fast or slow it does not matter but eventually we have to live this way. Localization is the first step on the right path not the last one.

In case you hadn't seen the numbers, about 40% of the energy used in the US comes from oil. I would call that critical, meaning that without it we would be in pretty serious trouble. In fact, as 1973 demonstrated, without 10% of it we are in trouble.

As far as replacing it, with what and over how long a period of time? I'm with memmel on that one. When we are finished replacing it we will be living in a different paradigm. I will be long dead before that transformation is past the painful part.

40% of the energy used in the US comes from oil. I would call that critical

If it were to all disappear overnight, we'd be in deep trouble. It's not going to do that. We have twice as much oil as we need (we use the surplus for things like single-commuter SUVs).

as 1973 demonstrated, without 10% of it we are in trouble.

Yes, it was painful. We need to do it pro-actively, rather than in reaction to an oil shock.

replacing it, with what and over how long a period of time?

Oil for transportation can be replaced with EREV/EVs. The electricity can come from any source, but eventually it will come from wind, solar, nuclear, geothermal, etc.

When we are finished replacing it we will be living in a different paradigm.

True - things will be electric.

See http://energyfaq.blogspot.com/2008/09/can-everything-be-electrified.html

We need to do it pro-actively, rather than in reaction to an oil shock.

Doesn't Jevon's say we can't do it proactively? Anyway, I think we shouldn't. It will just mean more pain, cumulatively.

Doesn't Jevon's say we can't do it proactively?

First, there are a lot of things one can to do to prepare before going to market. For instance, the Volt needed about 4 years of development before cars started being delivered. Wind turbines and solar have benefited from decades of development.

2nd, the smartest free-market participants do some planning, sometimes well in advance. Look at GE's R&D.

3rd, external costs, like pollution, need to be internalized. That's just good accounting, and free markets can't work well without good accounting.

Absolutely right, Gail. There are people involved, and economies, in addition to technology and geology.

No model can predict that the EMBF field will be shut in for a year due to war or natural disasters, or whether the operators of that field will push their output to the max, or hold back in search of higher prices later. Multiply that by every field in the world and you can maybe get +/-20% looking ahead at a particular year if you are remarkably insightful.

On the other hand, if you can even get close to how much oil is in the ground you can lay out a smoothed average that cannot be pushed above without pushing earlier or later production down.

In the OPEC example, several OPEC producers may be holding back, and may have been holding back, more than a reasonable guess would have them doing. This would enable them to push above the curve later.

On the other hand, they may have *already* pushed above the physical constraints curve and be due to pay for it in future production.

You can't beat gravity in the long term, the best you can do is get to a position where it's doing what you want (this may involve adjusting what you want).

Good Morning ,Westexas

I may have mentioned before that I believe you and your professional buddy are eventually going to be famous for your net oil export modeling work.

If you aren't rich already , you can probably get pretty comfortable making speeches at twenty large and up per evening on the salmon and filet mignon circuit. ;-)

No rubber chicken for you!

I haven't looked at the original paper todays key post is about, but I am certain that future oil production modeling done by competent workers will get better and better, because that old saw about professional specialists knowing more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing seems to apply perfectly , in a novel unintended way, to the future of oil in particular and fossil fuels in general.

I am only a reasonably well informed layman of course (thanks mostly to TOD!) but it appears to be VERY likely that the models predicting a peak within the general time frame of NOW -say plus or minus five years-are going to be found to be correct.

I suppose if there are any new models out there predicting a much later peak the regulars here will shred them like a chicken ripping up a dried cow patty looking for bugs.

"shred them like a chicken ripping up a dried cow patty looking for bugs."

Wow - I will have to remember that one.

If you aren't rich already , you can probably get pretty comfortable making speeches. . .

Actually, I am mildly surprised that anyone asks us to present our net export work (which is principally Sam Foucher's excellent mathematical modeling), because the implications for the oil importing OECD economies are so dire. In fact, I think that "Net Export Math" sends even most Peak Oilers, including me, into some degree of denial.

Sam's most optimistic scenario is that in a little over three years (end of 2013), the (2005) top five net oil exporters* will have shipped about half of their post-2005 CNOE (Cumulative Net Oil Exports). In other words, he is projecting that the post-2005 top five net export fuel gauge will be half empty by the end of 2013. Furthermore, at Chindia's recent rate of increase in net oil imports, by 2020, their combined net oil imports will be equivalent to 100% of projected (2005) top five net oil exports.

Regarding tea or coffee, I'll have coffee.

*Saudi Arabia, Russia, Norway, Iran and the UAE


I should have mentioned that you will have to wait until AFTER net oil exports go into a nosedive to cash in; my guess is that your commercial star will rise within six months to two years of that date.

If your need a personal driver/manager/ go fer and help writing your speeches, I am willing and able, and strongly interested in seeing a few of the major cities of the world while the planes are still flying.

If I were you or Sam, I would be practicing my speeches already. ;-)

Do we really need an accurate model of peak oil to justify aggressively pursuing clean, renewable biofuel alternatives? Drivers more important than peak oil are:

1 - Oil has already become a strategic commodity that compromises energy and national security
2 - Transfer of wealth to oil-producing countries is untenable for most user countries - whether first or third-world countries
3 - Environmentalism is cutting off access to domestic on-shore and close off-shore reserves
4 - Accessing deep-water oil is more technologically demanding and hence more prone to spills
5 - Tar sands extraction and refining is environmentally dirtier than oil drilling
6 - No new domestic oil refineries have been built in 35 years
7 - A Texas-oil President affirmed "We are addicted to oil."

Challenging peak oil models doesn't begin to address these drivers - which are based less on available supply and more on security, economic, environmental, and diplomatic vulnerabilities.

If the "clean renewable" biofuels compete with food production, or badly degrade soils over time, I am not sure how scalable they are. It seems like some of these issues need to be examined as well. We cannot expect biofuels to replace our current fossil fuels--there is not enough, and there are too many people.

Speaking as a real life and professionally trained farmer, the truly scary thing about farm grown biofuels is that they may indeed scale well enough to postpone the day of reckoning when oil becomes scarce and expensive enough to FORCE a wrenching change in the bau economy.

Now there is SOME silver lining in this possibility-it might buy a few more years in which massive efforts will be made in building up wind and solar production;and conservation measures, such as tightening up building codes, will of course be put into effect during this period.

But what I fear will happen is that we will simply find ourselves a lot farther down the mountian in a runaway truck, going a lot faster, when the inevitable crash happens.

By that time, we will have further severely depleted and degraded the remaining mineral , water, and soil resources available to us.

Furthermore,a new combination of interlocking business interests that will grow out of the expansion of biofuels will be just as powerful and intractable a problem as the worst of today's business entities such as megabanks;indeed they will be to a large extent owned by such banks , further increasing thier power.

And the economy in general in going to be in one hell of a mess,for tons of reasons, but just one is adequate to bring the whole house down-the insistence of the retiring boomer class on getting the benefits promised to it-and the ability this class will exhibit in hanging together politically.

He has not thought this thru yet, but the average foot soldier in the current brewing tax revolt movement as epitomized by the tea party type is looking forward to collecting social security and medicare benefits, as well as getting preferential treatment in respect to his real estate taxes and a senior discount on the buffet at KFC.

Once we are well and truly started down the biofuel road, it will probably be politically impossible to turn back-a politician who might wish to do so will have no more chance than a ski jumper has of stopping halfway down the ramp and climbing back to the top.

If one's house is burning down, he cannot spare time to fight the fire until he has rescued his children , even though both he and his children will then be without shelter and a high a risk of perishing-the only difference being that the day of final freckoning will be postponed .

and there are too many people.

This is the REAL problem we are facing - with or without peak oil.

You worry too much.

This problem is self correcting.

Too many people for what?

There are too many people for my taste, but there aren't too many people to feed, clothe and shelter, with or without hydrocarbons. Sadly, the excessive, debilitating consumption of hydrocarbons has several decades to run yet, though things are looking increasingly hopeful on the oil front.

In any case, as the demographic transition runs its course around the world, population growth will peak and then decline.

If one is concerned about the rate of degradation of non-renewable resources and or the rate of anthropogenic environmental transformation, then the answer obviously is to neutron bomb USland and Euroland, dump Ebola virus into Japan, and otherwise put rich people on the menu. Fileted Indian industrialist after a small bowl of Saudi Prince stew could help reduce pressure on wildlife habitat.

Failing this ambitious policy agenda, we might just focus on smaller objectives like integrating democratic values with the post hydrocarbon economic order. Or increasing the conversion efficiency of useful technologies.

LOL good post :)

But yes the real solution is to look to the future not the past. In the last dark age the information preserved in the monasteries and in the Muslim world served as a critical factor for the rebirth of culture in the west.

What you can and should do is create enclaves for our children and their children. Try and both save and also redo our current knowledge base so they have it at their disposal when they can finally rebuild.

Let them choose what they want to keep and what they want to throw away but try to allow them that choice.
Whats surprising is I'm not sure how much of what we have today will actually be useful for them.
But also its not my call its theirs. My job is to give them that choice.

Whats interesting perhaps is this attitude is one thats missing in many cultures few allow their children to choose. A distinctive example is the Amish which offer their children a chance to run away with consent.
For regular Americans college or the army was abused as this opportunity for better or worse.

Perhaps if cultures around the world took on this attitude and realized each generation can only offer what the have to the next they can't force the next to take it things would be a lot better.

I'd have to imagine for example in the South centuries of bigotry would have been rejected quickly as to many in each generation chose a different path from their parents. Not all of course but given the choice I suspect enough to overturn the status quo rapidly for the better.

And I might get flamed for this but I'd also argue that given the choice most younger people would opt to legalize a lot of drugs esp pot. As they feel the issues of legal drug use are less destructive than illegal. But we are not given that choice. And I'm not exactly pro drugs people have lots of problems and self medication is a serious issue as it leads to abuse regardless of how/what is used. Just that making stuff illegal does not solve the underlying mental health problems it makes it worse.

Indeed we should have adopted this enclave concept a long time ago and allowed our children to choose to stay or go or adapt it each generation. I think younger people are adept at recognizing prejudice and discarding it correctly and whole heartedly. And thats the key they can rapidly bury a dead concept given a chance.

Heck this extends to our current car based lifestyle obviously many of the Young love their skateboards and bikes and in line skates etc as a mode of transportation yet we ban skateboards with a vengeance instead of embracing them. While given the nature of a skateboard they are fantastic transportation when coupled to other modes.
Nothing against bikes but given some incentive I'd say the skateboard concept if supported with some infrastructure might be really useful.

But you can see how the combination of enclave/choice seems to result in a vibrant society without requiring massive growth. Material goods are replaced with making choices.

6.7 billion rich and poor people will have largely the same impact as 6.6 billion poor people. It's funny you mention using viruses to kill off the rich. Among the monkey wrenches ( mentioned in a post above - 'chaotic systems manufacture their own monkey wrenches and throw them into themselves' ) is a self-important meddler attempting to become earth's game warden and thin the human-herd with an engineered bioweapon. The press would blame alqueda and wait for the terrorists demands, but it would not be a terrorist as terrorists have an ulterior cause to motivate murder - the demand would be only that many people die. It would be hehe, the 12th Monkey Wrench.

It would take a very altruistic person to put so much effort into 'saving the planet' ( for who? ) And they would have to be both technically skilled, and crazy enough to pull it off.

Personally, I'm not skilled and I don't give a shit. Still... think of the ( at least temporarily ) improved world such a person would leave their surviving heirs. Maybe they could put a protein into the beastie so that 10% of the population is naturally immune ( making sure they themselves and a few of the people they cared about were in the 10% of immune people )

Then again a prize like that may actually be a curse even if the germ somehow didn't backfire. Don't buddhists believe life is suffering? Maybe they are right about that, but nirvana is a crock... Maybe it would be better to make sure someone you didn't like was naturally immune and that you and those you care about are susceptible.. See - crazy.

Maybe a glory hound would do it. Someone who believed they were doing good and that anyone would actually give a damn or that it would matter in some cosmic way once they were dead. If they died themselves, maybe early in the epidemic, then they wouldn't have to see the suffering children they killed, if they thought they were doing good, and were acting altruistically, then dying themselves would be attractive, and if they think they are God's agent then they don't have to wait to go to the land of the golden (rectal) pineapple. See - crazy.

The world is full of crazy sad sacks.

It is no longer justifiable to build oil depletion models that neglect the reality of economic substitution with alternative resources like oil sands or coal-based liquid fuels. Nor should economic models neglect the underlying physical, geological, and engineering considerations that fundamentally drive the economics of oil production. Future progress will require building integrated models that account for both the economic and physical realities of oil production.

Easy for him to say. As Colin Campbell once said (and I paraphrase) "It's not a question as to whether my numbers or right or wrong. I can tell you that they are wrong. The question is how wrong." I have a feeling that we will be able to put together a model that meets this critic's stringent requirements about two years after it's too late to care.

Future progress does not require building integrated models -- future progress requires people to recognize the inevitable with the imperfect tools we have today.

The conclusion of this paper is strange, especially when you take into account another recent Paper by Brandt (et al.). Here is the Abstract:

"Within the polarised and contentious debate over future oil supply a growing number of commentators are forecasting a near term peak and subsequent decline in production. But although liquid fuels form the foundation of modern industrial economies, the growing debate on ‘peak oil’ has relatively little influence on energy and climate policy. With this in mind, the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) has conducted an independent, thorough and systematic review of the evidence, with the aim of establishing the current state of knowledge, identifying key uncertainties and improving consensus. The study focuses upon the physical depletion of conventional oil in the period to 2030 and includes an in-depth literature review, analysis of industry databases and a detailed comparison of global supply forecasts. This Communication summarises the main findings of the UKERC study. A key conclusion is that a peak of conventional oil production before 2030 appears likely and there is a significant risk of a peak before 2020."

The same Methodological concerns are mentioned in the paper yet the Authors conclude peak dates that are common in other publications as well. That aside if most models predict a peak in the mentioned range (and taking account the importance of the event) it should be valid enough to take action...

For those who have a science direct account: here is the link


Brandt seems to think the studies are good enough to give broad brush indications (before 2020 or 2030 here), especially when a number of studies are considered. I think the issue is trying to use the models for detail forecasts--what will happen in 2011 or 2012, for example, which is what people would like to know now.

I might also point out that later in his paper he says (and I quoted):

Simple curve-fitting models can provide a first-order understanding of future production, assuming a given level of URR and no significant shocks to the system (e.g., demand continues to grow at rates within historical ranges). Such models are likely sufficient to predict the decade of peak production for an estimate of URR. The mathematical logic here is that consumption is so high during the years of peak production that minor variations in URR, or minor deviations due to political or economic factors, will not serve to significantly affect the date of the peak [111].

So he is not saying that curve-fitting models don't work at all, just that they are less than perfect.

Also note that this paper is looking at several different kinds of models. Some of the other kinds of models are the real offenders, in terms of extremely poor predictive value.

That makes absolute sense, however:

Long term (peak during this decade - or bumpy plateau in this decade) there is no real difference to policy makers. We need to start preparing alternative infrastructure now in order to cushion the fall.

For short term predictions there is a whole lot of other things you need to take into account. If you talk to oil brokers they tell you a completely different story. Many see a connection in the change of how trade is conducted since the early 2000's (switch to electronic) and would attribute the 20 to 60 rise during this period to these changes. They would also attribute the change in volatility to changes in trading (and finance) practices and conclude that we need to look at this (and demand) rather than at supply models in order to understand short term (12-18 month) price changes.

Does that make sense?

The most recent issue of Scientific American contains an article "How much is left?", which describes the limitations on a variety of resources. Their graph of "2014 >> The Peak of Oil" shows production in 2014 about 78 million barrels per day and a fairly linear drop to 2070. World Cumulative Production exhausts at about 2.1 trillion barrels. They reference "Forecasting World Crude Oil Production Using Multicyclic Hubbert Model," by Ibrahim Sami Nashawi et al., in Energy Fuels, Vol 24, No. 3; March 18, 2010.

Indium is projected to run out in 2028 at current rates of use. It is used in indium tin oxide which is a thin film conductor in flat panel television.

I understand the 2014 estimate is based on the assumption that the oil reserves in the Middle East are close to accurate. If they are too high, that would seem to make the date of decline earlier.

The OPEC part of the forecast is really amazing:

The oil production model of all OPEC countries is illustrated in Figure 13. This model was generated by combining the multicyclic Hubbert models of all 12 OPEC countries. Figure 13 shows an excellent match between the actual and predicted production rates. The model indicates that OPEC crude oil production will peak at 53 MMSTB/D in 2026. The production is expected to decrease to 29 MMSTB/D by 2050. At that time, the production will come from few OPEC countries, mainly, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, UAE, and Venezuela.

OPEC at 53 million barrels a day in 2026? Not likely!

Thanks for the link to the paper. I find its collection of actual production curves for each country fascinating. The curves of production to date for Saudi Arabia, Iran, Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait, UAE, Venezuela, Nigeria, Libya, Qatar, and Russia do not really resemble Hubbert curves.

This reinforces my view that the Hubbert model only applies to resource exploitation under conditions of free market economics and stable political conditions, e.g. either an internal "robber baron" system like the US or a quasi-colonial exploitation system like Angola. When political conditions are unstable, or when production is actively managed by the state, the resource exploitation is often different from the Hubbert model curve.

Fitting Hubbert curves onto the non-Hubbert curves of production to date seems irrational. For example, the curve in "Figure 16. Kazakhstan crude oil production model" is unlikely to be realized without some miracle of investment coupled with a resolution all political issues in Central Asia about transportation and pipelines to world markets.

I agree that it seems strange to fit Hubbert curves to some data.

Natural gas and coal are both to some extent "drill as you needed it". There might be some pieces that fit a Hubbert Curve, but there are other prices that do not. I expect that the plateauing of coal production in the US in recent years has had more to do with not building electrical generation plants than necessarily a decline.

Heavy oil is also a drill it as you need it proposition. And the Middle East is following a very different pattern than assumed by a Hubbert curve. Even Russia has a very different curve.

I think it is easy to kid ourselves in terms of how much we know. We know generally that there is a problem, but the models don't tell us, for example, whether a big decline in Ghawar will start tomorrow.

IIrc, I have seen reports recently indicating that the Chinese are already making sure that thier production of all the various scarce elements will remain in China -these efforts including actually forbidding the export of these elements.

I have little doubt that they will make fools of most of the rest of the world the way the Japanese made fools of us Americans in electronics and automobiles-exporting thier manufactured goods but closing thier markets to everything they can possibly produce at home, excepting token amounts allowed in to keep the suckers playing-the lottery model is to sell lots of small "winning" tickets, a five dollar winner in about every ten or twenty dollar losers is common.

China: Rare earth export cuts protect environment

China issued export quotas for 30,258 tonnes by the end of July, down 40 percent compared to last year, following a nationwide campaign to consolidate the sector and clamp down on illegal production.

You wouldn't want China to be environmentaly irresponsible, would you?

After all, we shut down what had been the previous largest rare earth mine in the world due to environmental concerns.
Mountain Pass rare earth mine

After all, we shut down what had been the previous largest rare earth mine in the world due to environmental concerns.
Mountain Pass rare earth mine

If your link is correct then:

a) shutdown sounds justified after excessive leaks of radioactive sludge.

b) "closed in part due to REEs imported from China". So it was uneconomical at the time.

Good job shooting yourself in the foot.

ouch, way over my head :)

Crude production is going to rise by 5mbd (a 7% increase!!) in 4 years? Balderdash! Especially when it has not budged for 5 years with higher prices to drive it. The SciAm article is more of oldfarmermac's "dried cow patties".

I think there is an old tale that ends "it's not whether you can throw the bull flops against the barn wall, it's whether you can get them to stick."

How Much Is Left ? The Limits of Earth's Resources, Made .... The video you get when clicking on the oil derrick icon is 3.5 minutes of Dave Rutledge mostly talking about coal.

A number of years ago I had a junior engineer working for me. He could crank out any number as long as he had complete data. However, the reality of his work (and a lot of chemical engineering in general) is that he never had complete data but rather had to make guesstimates. In these situations he proved completely useless.

It seems to me that there will never be a model that fully reflects "reality." We are stuck with having to guesstimate. So it isn't perfect. So, what? Waiting for the perfect model assures that it will only be of value as an historic reference.


Your first paragraph is actually an argument against your own conclusion in the second.

I think Todd was saying that the jr engineer was bad at dealing with incomplete data, and that it's possible to do much better.

It seems to me that there will never be a model that fully reflects "reality."

My guess is that in the year 2100 they will be able to very accurately model oil production.

First-rate critique of Peak Oil modeling though like all science rather dry not very tasty.

The prospect of oil substitution has been around for a very long time. I remember a 1970s report, which projected very large CTL contributions by 2000 with a slow decline of imports--also huge increases in renewables. But that hasn't happened, suggesting that there was more oil to be
had than the reserves suggested at the time(no foolin').
Free-marketeers would say that the 'market' discovered oil where geologists couldn't. Geologists perhaps would say EOR technology increased the recovery rates/reserve growth) at a price.

It is no overstatement to say that water is the key that has unlocked Kern County’s heavy oil and kept it flowing. Over the last 50 years, according to the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, oil companies have produced more than three billion barrels of oil. They’ve also pumped 2.9 trillion gallons of steam and water into the ground—a volume large enough to submerge the state of Maryland in one foot of water.......
The amount of water needed in heavy oil production is eye-popping. In 2008, just over 162 million barrels of oil were produced in District 4, which comprises Kern County, by far the state’s largest oil producing region. In the same year, 1.3 billion barrels of water and steam – 54.6 billion gallons – were injected into the ground to get it. That translates to roughly eight barrels of water injected for every barrel of oil extracted.


It is no longer justifiable to build oil depletion models that neglect the reality of economic substitution with alternative resources like oil sands or coal-based liquid fuels.

While literally true, higher priced substitutes in a world burdened by debt may not be affordable, at least in appreciable numbers. If $85 oil is a rough limit to what might cause further recession, then tar sands and CTL might be on par with Unobtainium. For that matter, some hard to access conventional oil can fall into the same category.

So the term 'economic substitution' requires refinement for it to be useful in this context.

tar sands and CTL might be on par with Unobtainium.

I think he was throwing out examples. I agree that tar sands and CTL are not likely to grow quickly. EREV/EVs, on the other hand, provide excellent substitutes that can ramp up quite quickly.

Quickly? Well maybe on a geological scale. New Priuses are over $20,000. All of the "full electrics" I'm hearing about will be closer to the $30,000 range. How many people in the US are likely to be ready to invest that much in what most will consider to be a vehicle of limited usefulness?

Even more relevant is the level of industrial investment needed to produce EVs (what is EREV?)at any scale. That isn't going to happen on any scale that could be called "quickly".

New Priuses are over $20,000.

That's cheap. The average new US car is $29K.

How many people in the US are likely to be ready to invest that much in what most will consider to be a vehicle of limited usefulness?

Yes, I prefer EREVs like the Volt. That's an Extended Range EV: there's a small generator on board to handle 20% of the miles. It eliminates "range anxiety".

Even more relevant is the level of industrial investment needed to produce EVs

Not much more than conventional vehicles.

China has 80000 bpd in CTL plants to rise to 630000 bpd in 2020.


China's oilshale is expanding also as it becomes the world's largest producer.



The CTL article is interesting, but it's about 4 years old (dated 08, but the data is mostly 2006). Have you run across anything more recent?

The oil-shale article is also interesting, but they describe the chart of forecasts as "informal".

Forecasting is very, very difficult, and we tend to remember the successes, and forget the failures.

For instance, Hubbert tried to forecast natural gas in the late 70's, and came up with a forecast that NG production was going to decline dramatically and permanently ("fall off a cliff") in the early 80's.

As Brandt notes, we know all we really need to know, to conclude that we need to eliminate our dependence on oil ASAP.


We can eliminate our dependence on oil, but will we? The tools are here: Hybrids like the Prius, EREVs like the Volt, and EVs like the Leaf have been engineered and are for sale. Wind power has grown to the point where it can provide whatever we need (and yes, nuclear and solar are important too). So, what's left is the pace of cultural change, and the small matter of politics - how we deal with the minority that wants to block change:

"A dark ideology is driving those who deny climate change. Funded by corporations and conservative foundations, these outfits exist to fight any form of state intervention or regulation of US citizens. Thus they fought, and delayed, smoking curbs in the '70s even though medical science had made it clear the habit was a major cancer risk. And they have been battling ever since, blocking or holding back laws aimed at curbing acid rain, ozone-layer depletion, and – mostly recently – global warming.

In each case the tactics are identical: discredit the science, disseminate false information, spread confusion, and promote doubt. As the authors state: "Small numbers of people can have large, negative impacts, especially if they are organised, determined and have access to power."


"The billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch are waging a war against Obama. He and his brother are lifelong libertarians and have quietly given more than a hundred million dollars to right-wing causes."



Neither the Volt or LEAF is actually available in showrooms yet. Assuming 2011 sales of 260k total for both models - which is too high, but I don't want to bother checking actual numbers right now - new sales will constitute .11% of a vehicle fleet of 246 million. This expands to 1.06% by 2020 with steady linear growth. At 9 mb/d gasoline consumption that would directly translate to about 95 kb/d displaced, assuming owners wholly do without, which may be the case with the LEAF, dunno how much less the Volt is expected to use. This cumulative figure will be subject to scrappage. Historically the vehicle fleet has always increased in size too; granted newer vehicles account for more VMT then older, but this effect tails off with time obviously.

117 million US workers commute solo; Volt+LEAF sales then would be .22% of this smaller figure, probably a more reasonable number since not all of the fleet is in daily use. This expands to 2.22% in 2020 with no additional output. Presumably they will expand production if sales are robust and of course in that case other makers will get in on the game, but even cumulative sales of hybrids per se 2006-2009 are still only 0.66% or 1.38% of fleets of 246 or 117 million. I see no reason why PHEVs/serial hybrids/RREVs/whatever the Government Motors marketing department comes up next/etc will grow at any faster rate. Automakers are in business to make money, not expedite transitions away from non-renewable resources.

Update: Volt production will be 45k/year, hitting peak in 2012. Their marketing director says they'll wait till then to ascertain where to go: Chevy Volt's Rollout to Include New York City - NYTimes.com LEAFs also hit peak in 2012.

Neither the Volt or LEAF is actually available in showrooms yet.

They're both available for ordering, right now, with reliable delivery.

vehicle fleet of 246 million

As I read the stats, 16M are motorcycles and such. 230M appears to be the figure that applies here.

steady linear growth.... I see no reason why PHEVs/serial hybrids/RREVs/whatever the Government Motors marketing department comes up next/etc will grow at any faster rate (than hybrids).

I don't know why you'd assume that. Those are key assumptions, and they seem unrealistic to me. One might call it...BAU.

117 million US workers commute solo

Do you happen to have a source for that?

Ed 29 of the Transportation Energy Data Book gives either 247,322,000 (FHWA) or 250,239,000 (Polk Company) for 2008. This is cars plus LDVs; there are about 7 million motorcycles: http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pubs/811159.pdf.

Table 8.15 of the TEDB gives 76.3% of workers driving solo for their commute in 2000, multiply that by 153 million workers or whatever the precise figure is, BEA has the current number, which would be lower, plus you had that spike in MT usage in 2008, which tailed off slightly thereafter; don't know where it's at currently.

Why would buyers turn out in droves to buy expensive PHEV or EVs? Admittedly we have yet to see how they perform in real world situations, but just wait until you start hearing rafts of trash talk from Limbaugh or Glenn Beck about how these greeny liberals are trying to convince us to subsidize cars that will need a $6k replacement battery at some point, when we could simply be mining our trillion barrel bounty of oil shale etc. None of which I'm seriously suggesting as anything close to the whole picture, but people buy cars for really irrational reasons - follow some threads in other forums if you don't believe me. Acceleration, cosmetic appearance, roominess, safety, and even the number of cupholders are discussed with a passion approaching or superseding fuel economy issues. Plus all those Dittoheads will purposely steer clear of LEAFs just to be mindless contrarians. Sure they're not the whole market - but they do exist in the millions; also sure that they'll eventually capitulate if gas stays >$5/gal, but in the meantime they'll persist in buying trucks and SUVs fueled with the gasoline God created for them to burn inefficiently, and automakers will be more than glad to give them what they want, since, again, the automakers are corporations seeking profits.

"but people buy cars for really irrational reasons" and we wonder why the our ecomony sucks

Why would buyers turn out in droves to buy expensive PHEV or EVs?

Priuses are much less expensive than the average new car (about $4k less). To convert a Prius into a plugin, just add a plug and a larger battery. In 5 years a larger li-ion battery will cost about $5k, leaving the overall cost comparable to the average ICE price.

Heck, you can convert a Prius into a plugin with lead-acid batteries for about $3,500 (li-ion is $7-10k, at the moment).

You'll void the warranty carrying out conversions on Prii, and spend at least $2k for minimal range, up to $40k if you want more. That page suggests that LiFePO4 is by far the cheapest and most popular conversion.

Prius was #20 in sales for March, median price for models selling >10k units was $21,545, slightly lower than the Prius but no dramatically so. That might be the case with state rebates factored in. Did you catch the story in DB today about the subsidies ending for the Prius in Japan? US buyers hardly noticed when that happened here. I have a pile of data about auto sales/prices and fleet size that I'll plow into a post here soon.

You'll void the warranty

That wikipedia entry is incorrect (I edited it). Toyota only warns that such conversions may adversely affect your warranty.

up to $40k

The cells only cost about $350/kWh. $10K is a more realistic upper range - take a look at the table for prices for those vendors who are actually in production.

median price for models selling >10k units was $21,545

That doesn't match what I've seen, though the articles I've seen were dealing with averages, not medians, and didn't arbitrarily exclude models selling <10k units. I'll see if I can re-find that reference. In the meantime, do you happen to have a reference for that handy?

In any case, I think we're agreed that a Prius purchase price is not significantly more expensive than the average new US car, and it's lifecycle costs would be significantly lower, at todays gas prices?

Did you catch the story in DB today about the subsidies ending for the Prius in Japan?

Hybrid subsidies aren't ending in general. Instead, their version of a Cash for Clunkers is ending.

My link was from something called the Electric Auto Association. I'd think discouraging people from having conversions done would be contrary to their intentions, which I'd guess would be the popularization of EVs. Right? At any rate it's prudent to know what you're getting into. Here's another source: CalCars and PHEVs Frequently Asked Questions

Will a conversion void my warranty?
Companies could decide that conversions void some or part of your car or hybrid system warranty—unless they worry that will tarnish its green image. We won't know how dealers will respond to service requests until we start driving converted cars. However, there is a legal precedent set by aftermarket modifiers arguing that original auto warranties cannot be voided completely by modifications, and that only the part(s) affected by retrofit will have their warranties voided.

With <200 conversions done this is all a bit theoretical, anyway.

My median and mean price figures were about the same. This is from base prices of MSRPs for about 200 vehicles - I need to doublecheck these numbers as that given for the #2 vehicle, the Chevy Silverado, is about $9k too high, I notice. Most of this data came from MSN.

The Japanese Clunkasubsidy has lasted about as long as some US Fed handouts, actually. This article makes me think those worried about sales going over a cliff perhaps doth protest too much: Do Hybrid Sales Fall After the Tax Credits End? That's a good blog for hybrid info.

Thanks for the info.

This is from base prices of MSRPs for about 200 vehicles

I would think that the actual selling prices would be what we would want - discounts and option packages can make a very big difference. The numbers I've seen have been $28k-$29K for an average for all US vehicles. Here's one source: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/autos/aut11.shtm

Thus, production has not dropped as quickly as Hubbert (or the other authors above) thought that it would, and the US curve is asymmetric [83].

Arguing for a 'fat tail' in US production, there are the tens of thousands of stripper wells adding up to fairly significant production. Also, I would think that formations like the much discussed Bakken Shale would yield a steady flow possibly slower than optimistic forecasts.

Arguing for more of a 'shark fin' curve would be the deepwater production profiles which tend to start out at fairly high production and then tail off rapidly before being abandoned.

Interesting to see how these interact over the next few years.

I think tax rates are critical. iF tax rates are raised on stripper wells, a lot of them will go out of business.

The US government needs tax revenue, and that is one of the targets that has been discussed in the not too distant past.

I would like to offer some comments from Taleb's book, The Black Swan, which fit well with the conclusion that all these models have not fared well in predicting the arrival of peak oil. Taleb noted, for example, that "Our minds are wonderful explanation machines, capable of making sense out of almost anything, capable of mounting explanations for all manner of phenomana, and generally incapable of accepting the idea of unpredictability." He also wrote that "I find it scandalous that in spite of the emprical record we continue to project into the future as if we were good at it, using tools and methods that exclude rare events." Finally, for now, he wrote "Let governments predict (it makes officials feel better about themselves and justifies their existence) but do not set much store by what they say....No one in particular is a good predictor of anything."

One of the scariest things in some of the comments in this thread is the idea that we need to have more economists making projections of the economic side of the peak oil argument. Forgive me, but those are the very same people who, almost to the last individual, failed to predict the housing, banking, and other economic crises of recent years. Failed! It is time to hold economists responsible for their failures, to recognize that modern neoclassical economics is nothing more than economic theology. If you believe Larry Summers, who stated a few years ago that Earth has no limit to its carrying capacity for humans, then you must also believe in Santa Claus and the sugar plum fairy. By now it should be apparent to almost everyone that economics needs a thorough overall before economists are again asked to do anything.

It should also be apparent to anyone, as I've said before, that more people will confound predictions of virtually anything related to economics, including peak oil. Stopping, then reversing, human population growth would achieve more to relieve future stresses generated by various limits to growth than any other single thing we could do, but most people are afraid to even talk about it. For decades human population growth has been viewed as untouchable and treated as something "natural," despite the fact that it is right now on a course that is totally unnatural and unsustainable. We always ask "how are we going to provide for millions more humans?" rather than "why in the world do we want or need more humans?" All discussions of our future should be shifted to the latter question. To paraphrase ecologist Garrett Hardin, we don't have a shortage of resources, we have a longage of people.

How can we wake people up to the fact that the size and growth of the human population remain the elephant in the living room?

Some things are hard to do.

Just because geologists have a hard time predicting earthquakes and volcanoes doesn't make geology a non-science.

It's easy to find behaviors that many think are hard to model correctly, yet one can come up with a simple concise solution. Geology is a science, but the people practicing it may not have sufficient insight to create the scientific breakthroughs.

Geology is a science, but the people practicing it may not have sufficient insight to create the scientific breakthroughs.

Geologists aren't smart enough to understand...geology? Or are you claiming that geologists like....Hubbert..... didn't create any scientific breakthroughs?

Hubbert made some assertions. He certainly didn't leave any kind of reproducible analytical trail.

I will give you an example from hydrogeology where the geologists have completely f'd it up.
The analysis is so simple bordering on the absurd, yet it looks like they have no real clue.

I will lay it out and you will be able to whine all you want.

Oh. Okay. Except...does this hydrogeology have anything to do with oil, peak oil, that sort of stuff? Because if its just another signal processing or Intel story with nothing to do with the topic at hand, why bother?

I seriously doubt that the Colonel required even a net present value calculation to discover oil, let alone AM radio, a home computer, the processor built into it, or any particular branch of statistics. Those hillbillies back there sure was sumptin!

Edwin (Colonel) Drake was not a hillbilly.

Edwin Drake was born in Greenville, Greene County, New York on March 11, 1819, the son of Lyman and Laura (née Lee) Drake. He grew up on family farms around New York State and Castleton, Rutland County, Vermont before leaving home at the age of 19. He spent the early parts of his life working with the railways around New Haven, Connecticut as a clerk, express agent and conductor.

Please! Obviously without a degree in fat tailed statistics, knowledge of signal processing and unpublished work which could have leapfrogged atom smasher and microprocessor design by a century he couldn't be anything BUT a hillbilly!...relatively speaking. :>)

Besides, him being the first to find oil is a ridiculous concept, used only for propaganda purposes by bluebloods in Pennsylvania. The very lubricating oil used by Drakes drilling machinery was called "Pure West Virginia Lubricating Oil". Where do you think the Colonel got his drilling tools from? He didn't INVENT them, thats for sure.

You do have a point. Working much harder problems in electrical engineering makes many of these geology problems seem quite trivial to solve.

Now I get it! No wonder you don't like petroleum engineers, they are one of the few professions who outscore EE's in the income department when it comes time to graduate!

Considering you haven't solved a single geologic problem yet, perhaps the gloating should wait?

I am building up the suspense. As usual, one can find much data on material flow in research reports. But the problem is that the researchers make it much too complicated and you just have to step back and consider a few first principles.

Electrical engineers typically solve problems that involve disorder, such as extractingsg signals from noise. So when we see something so obvious, it is really trivial to solve. The fundamental challenge as always is to present the problem clearly. Stay tuned.

BTW, receiving a high salary is irrelevant. Drug dealers and whores also make lots of money.

whores also make lots of money.

Not really. There are a few high priced call girls, but most in this trade make maybe $25 per hour. It's just a lot more than their other opportunities...

Whores in big business, including oil.

I am building up the suspense.

Certainly have me on the edge of my seat! A little clue...whats up next? Oil discovery predicted by phases of the mooon, or the astrological sign of whoever processes the seismic? I've got GOOSEBUMPS!

BTW, receiving a high salary is irrelevant. Drug dealers and whores also make lots of money.

Yeah, but they can't find, develop, or produce oil either.

"Non-Fickian dispersion in porous media - multiscale measurements using single-well injection withdrawal tracer tests"

I slammed the door on this puppy. Its a thing of beauty.

So is this the one where you choose a topic which has nothing to do with oil, or depletion, and pretend its really a circuitry problem, and "slam the door" on it that way? Or does the "Steve Grove is real smart and would have drilled 2 injectors instead" routine cover this one?

Who is Steve Grove?
Andy Grove is the Intel guy.

Perhaps you don't understand that the mathematics that underlies disparate physical behaviors is oftentimes equivalently formulated. The Fokker-Planck equation is renamed Darcy's because they can, not because there is any fundamental difference in the math. That's where I clean up, in identifying the commonality and using ideas from the more mature disciplines.

Perhaps you don't understand that the mathematics that underlies disparate physical behaviors is oftentimes equivalently formulated.

It is a quandary, isn't it? Maybe PE's are trained not to confuse signal processing with the finding or development of an actual oilfields and such? It certainly would help explain why they get paid more right out of the gate.


Maybe you didn't comprehend what I said before. I don't actually assume that a behavior is the same across disciplines; yet I borrow useful mathematical concepts.

There are only so many ways to formulate an equation. Yet its still fun to reduce the "complex" to sommething palatable.

Stopping, then reversing, human population growth would achieve more to relieve future stresses generated by various limits to growth than any other single thing we could do, but most people are afraid to even talk about it.

I don't think fear keeps people talking about population. Perhaps the fact that you have yet to notice that we already are "Stopping, then reversing, human population growth" is colouring your perception of people's mumness on the topic.

If you think that your own time is best spent trying to affect the population curve, then get yourself involved in changing the living conditions of those remaining populations who are still in the early process of the demographic transition. You can: 1. Help to increase their food security and general wellbeing in order to erode practices aimed at 'social security' through high birthrates; 2. Aid in the introduction of more complexity in their societies thus raising the cost of raising children (more complex, non or minimally hydrocarbon dependent food production technology such as water and land conserving irrigation systems come to mind as a great place to get a high return on your invested time); 3. use your imagination

Good luck convincing a Mormon or Catholic or Muslim that they need to stop breeding.

As far as helping to increase food security-you can't be serious, can you? Like the Green Revolution which eliminated famine and ensured that we now have billions of more mouths to feed?

As far as "using your imagination"-well, people certainly have very imaginative means of helping to solve the population problem-alcohol, pistols, and ropes come to mind. Not to mention ak 47s and hydrogen bombs.

The historical record is very clear-societies, of all sorts of technological development and complexity, overshoot limits and then mass migration and war and disease and famine ensue. It happens as night follows day.

It's too late for any type of discussion on population, which is precisely the reason it's not discussed. Death and collapse don't make for good dinner or political conversation.

Just about every community in Quebec is Saint or Sainte something. The Church led 'the revenge of the cradle' as it encapsulated the nationalist sentiment of French Canadians. I am watching cancer take a friend who was one of seventeen when he was baptised nearly 70 years ago. He had one child, which was one more than a number of his siblings. Italy like Quebec, and Catholic countries around the world are already below population replacement rates, or are on course for that eventuality, even those whose population is still expanding.

One of the most successful efforts to influence the trajectory of the population curve through the demographic transition that begins with a decline in death rates has been that of Iran. Different political factions in Iran play the morality/religion card and some ranters try to claim that Islam stands in opposition to family planning. I like to think of them as the papist faction. President Imadinnerjacket recently said the national family planning policy is unIslamic. He is obviously not a theologian. Even if Imadinnerjacket could end state funding of family planning in Iran, he is not going to change what has happened in the bedrooms of Iran. And is happening throughout the world irrespective of religious tradition, which is not say that traditional reproductive practices change evenly.

From the Widipedia page on the demographic transition:

Countries that have experienced a fertility decline of over 40% from their pre-transition levels include: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Panama, Jamaica, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Surinam, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, South Africa, India, Saudi Arabia, and many Pacific islands.

I can't help but note how many Catholics and Moslems live in those countries. And Hindus. As for Mormons, I don't know. But I'm pretty sure that if you add up all the Mormons, you don't get close to the number of non-breeding gays in the population, including of course gay Mormons.

You seem to be missing a point regarding food security. It accelerates the demographic transition to a declining population. That's what the evidence says. It also says that famine and violence did nothing to stem the recent quadrupling of population, while giantic food surpluses create an appetite for semen stopping behaviour and technology. Do the great famines of China in the twentieth century, the war with Japan, the civil war, political murder, separately or together, create a blip on China's population curve? On the other hand, look at the current era of food security and witness the transition to a rapidly aging society headed towards population decline. Yes there are going to be more people when the decline begins than there are today, but if you want to make sure that more is less than otherwise, then do something to increase food security in those areas where food insecurity unfortunately supports the continuation of the multiple birth/death strategy to achieve genetic reproduction.

Hi toilforoil,

I wish I could share your optimism regarding population stabilization/decline - but the facts do not support this. Birth/fertility rates are only one component of population growth - the only important statistic is "population growth" and the world population is growing at about at around 1.17% http://chartsbin.com/view/xr6 which will result in 9+ billion latter in this century.

Birth rate in one country is irrelevant if the Country A (like USA) absorbs immigrants from other countries (like Central America) to maintain a positive "growth rate". The current growth rate of the US is near one percent (which should grow us from 300M to 500M after mid century).

However, even if the folks who see global population leveling off in the 9 to 10 billion range in the latter part of the century are correct, the real question is whether or not this number of humans is really sustainable? It seems to me that there are good arguments that this level of human population will greatly stress the planet and could lead to some pretty nasty consequences for the our species. Also, in the real world of economics/politics/religions/etc how can we be sure that birth rates will drop around the globe? What evidence do we have that a "more just" paradigm of food/water/etc distribution will actually happen?

Why should we gamble with this issue? Why not recognize the problem and advocate humane ways to reduce global population? http://www.populationconnection.org/site/PageServer

Why not have the USA be the leader in practicing what it preaches?

Good luck convincing a Mormon or Catholic or Muslim that they need to stop breeding.

Catholics in the US have the same fertility levels as the general population. Catholics in Italy have almost stopped having children...

Catholics in Italy have one of the lowest birth rates in the world - 1.4 children per woman - indicating that Italian women are not paying a great deal of attention to anything the Pope says.

The replacement rate is 2.1 children per woman, so Italy's population is going to go into steep decline in the not-to-distant future.

Likewise the fundamentalist and evangelical sects we are so fond of poking fun at here on TOD.In my neck of the woods, families with three or more kids are getting to be rarities. One or two is the norm now.

If we spent even ten percent of the amount on subsidizing birth control that we spend on any well known environmental program, the birth rate would fall even lower, and the bang for the buck would be much higher.

These people use contraceptives of all kinds but they do occasionally run short of money to buy said contraceptives, and well, young people are gonna do it, no matter what right?

Any rich person who can't stand fundamentalists could just about wipe them out in twenty five years my estimation by donating his fortune to funding free tubal ligationsm, vascetomies, and the pill for any active attendees of such churches.

This is a very interesting and constructive set of comments. That alone shows the value of trying to model important things. Exercises like this serve mutliple purposes.

First, disciplined thinking about how the system works makes us organize our ideas, allows people to compare notes and see what they agree on, and produces projections/predictions that must be compared with actual outcomes. (Without that comparison, any scenario is as good as any other.) The synfuels scenario above demonstrates this nicely.

Second, even before the outcome comparison is possible, models help us think about misconceptions of how the system works, via major factors not initially obvious to the modeler. Often a reductionist/logical thinker (most likely to attempt a model) misses things that are obvious to a creative/intuitive thinker, and dialog triggered by the model leads us down promising thought paths, toward more comprehensive solutions.

Third, the admonition to integrate geological/physical fundamentals with human behavior is essential to understanding the energy system.

What seems (to me) most commonly missing from TOD discussions is constructive thinking about resource substitution. We all lack a clear crystal ball, but perhaps some are blinded by pessimism or just not working very hard to understand the substitution puzzle. I try to envision innovation prospects by reading about the innovators. USA-centric sites I find useful include:

I agree that it appears to be correct that biofuels cannot scale up sufficiently to meet demand for surface-transport liquid fuels:
But even in this space there is innovation worth watching:
(this article is going behind a paywall in a few hours.)

However, it may be possible for algal biofuels to scale up to supply world demand for aviation fuels. The military sector is very interested in its own energy security and thus in making this happen.

More generally, I've been working hard for years to imagine the future. I foresee a new energy future with these elements:
- A long, difficult transition away from fossil fuels via natural gas
- Energy-efficient buildings and urban design
- Electrification of surface transport
- New nuclear plants for massive baseload near the world’s largest cities
- Distributed renewable energy produced at appropriate scale where it is consumed
- Capturing energy flows, rather than depleting stocks
- Wind, solar, tide/current, non-food biofuels
- Energy storage
- An efficient, resilient transmission grid

Finally, some will be interested in this remarkable report by the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security, on what the United Kingdom should do to prepare for a post-petroleum future:


It is simply not true that we are "already stopping and reversing population growth." That is a myth unless you believe that adding 80 million people a year to the world is "stopping growth." This myth has come about because some writers, not demographers, have confused rates of growth and absolute growth. The rate of growth has been declining since the late 1960s but absolute additions to the population remain very high. Even in the U.S., where some who don't look at numbers at all argue that growth has stopped, we have added nearly 30 million people (more than the population of any state other than California) to the population since 2000.

If none of this concerns you, then nothing I can say will make a difference.

If the US were to reduce it's fertility rate to 50% of replacement, it would still grow.

Elimination of absolute growth overnight really isn't a good idea - you have to go through the demographic transition.

I usually rely on the example of the ship at sea. After the engines are fully engaged in reverse, the boat continues to move forward for a while. That 'while', in the case of population curve, takes us out to about 2070 before a worldwide decline begins, perhaps before, and a peak population about 2 to 3 billion above current levels.

The Wikipedia entry on the demographic transition provides an overview of the processes at work. There is also "The Empty Cradle" by P. Longman.

Hi toilforoil.

takes us out to about 2070 before a worldwide decline begins

Perhaps this is true - but, it is still speculation as there are a number of scenarios/arguments whereby growth rates will not decline.

It seems to me that it would be a wiser course of action to recognize the dangers of over shoot and proactively support humane approaches to reducing global population. http://www.populationconnection.org/site/PageServer And, most importantly, for the USA to state a policy geared toward reducing our own population - and thereby provide a little leadership.

Hi glp,

I agree with you completely - it is a puzzle to me why so many folks insist upon trying to rationalize global human population growth instead of simply recognizing the danger of this growth and focusing on humane ways to actually reverse the process.

why so many folks insist upon trying to rationalize global human population growth

Very simple.

They believe in the delusion of "free will"

But we have no free will.
Evolution mandates that we be as the fruit fly are.
Otherwise we wouldn't be here. Period.

I'm one of the newer folks here on TOD, who happened to come across this site in the early days of the BP disaster in the GOM. I was pleasantly surprised to find a site dedicated to the future of energy. For many, many years I have been concerned about the impact of over-population on the world's finite resources. In more recent years, I've been alarmed about America's dependence on foreign oil, for reasons of national security as well as economic stability. And most recently, I've been worried about Climate Change.

As a recently retired engineer from the defense industry, I'm very familiar with the complexity as well as absolute necessity of simulation based predictive modelling. I'm a neophyte when it comes to the geosciences and even less qualified to discuss economics. However, retirement has given me the opportunity to keep learning and the TOD has given me a safe environment in which to learn more and possibly contribute a thought or two.

Now as to the topic at hand. From what I've gleaned, we reached the left shoulder of Peak Oil in 2005 and are currently on a plateau. The two most important things to discern in the near future are:

1. When will we reach the right shoulder of Peak Oil?
2. What is the rate of decline after PO and how linear will that rate be?

For a complex simulation suite, to be reasonably believable it must include all of the independent variables including the known, or assumed, interdependence of critical variables. I realize that the data will always be incomplete, even disingenous at times. However, when real data becomes available, the assumptions can always be refined and the future predictions become more useful. In actuality, most of the variables involved are within the control of humankind. Governments have the choice of subsidization, on one hand, or taxation on the other. The only uncontrolled variables are geologic limits of oil reserves as well as the periodic impact of hurricanes and earthquakes on production and distribution systems.


Your summary sounds like a reasonable assessment of the situation.

A few hints at what might be ahead:

1. Rune put together a post in which he figured out that there is a possibility that OPEC will be out of spare capacity by the end of 2011. He thinks this may cause another price spike.

2. I would argue that stage has already been set for tax increases on oil companies (and on the population as a whole) in many of the OECD countries. OECD Countries especially have been using stimulus money to try to get their economies going again. It will not be popular to tax voters, so oil and gas companies are likely to be targets, even if it reduces oil production. There may also need to be other more general tax increases. All of this is likely to cause (or worsen) recession. I would not be surprised if oil production decreases because of these tax increase. (two or three years)

I also would argue that the stage has already been set for more defaults on debt, and this will ripple through the international financial system. Fall-out of this may have an impact on international trade--generally toward less. Even if the oil is still extracted, trade problems may be an issue for some. This could also lead to drop offs in oil availability for some purchasers, in the not-too-distant future (two or three years).

3. Tony Ericsen (ace) shows his view of what the downslope will look like in this post from November 2009.

OldLeatherNeck, I'm in a similar position of being new to TOD and having an engineering background (civil). The issues regarding simulation are intriguing. My first five years of engineering involved much work on urban transportation models, simulating existing traffic volumes by street segment using basic variables of land use type, location, and intensity. After calibrating the model for existing conditions we then tried to project traffic volumes 20-30 years into the future. You can imagine the difficulties in trying to guess where a shopping mall might go, or if a new expressway would be built. All this was in the era of main frames and punch cards.

I've been fortunate to live past the "design years' of those efforts, and one day I went back to see how the projections held up. There were hits and misses in terms of land use, the decade in which a new roadway was opened, and similar issues. What struck me, was that the basic recommendations made 25 years in the past held true. The community followed the plan to a significant degree, and the traffic problems that actually developed were in areas where the plan was not followed.

In reviewing those 25 years I realized all the societal and technical changes that we did not think to consider, from telecommuting to an increase in the complexity of trips (daycare, for example), the increase in auto ownership, and public opposition to highway or transit capital projects. None of them really made that much difference. Even more surprising was realizing that in spite of all the new computer technology the basic models in use are still the same.

We may face similar issues with peak oil production and demand. While we focus on the details of a model or the production rate of an oil field, the real value of the projection lies in providing a concept of the future that is driven by basic choices. The "breakthrough oil discovery" that draws headlines will be only a slight bump on a long curve. The slope of that curve and its rate of change, not the area underneath or the tick on an X or Y axis, will tell the story.

Point #1
There is a relationship between peak discovery rate and the eventual peak production rate of about a 40 year spread between the two. World discovery rate peaked in the 1960s.

Point #2
The definition of oil is a moving target among those who argue against an impending or just past peak date. The anti peak people start to add biofuels, coal, kerogen, bitumen, bee's wax, etc to the definition of oil to show how wrong some predictions are. They need to be challenged when they are inconsistent in the definition of terms.

Point #2: The definition of oil is a moving target

3. The definition of "peak" is also a moving target.

Once CERA interjected their re-framing buzz noise about "undulating plateaus"
many here at TOD got discombobulated.

When you reach the topmost plateau of a mountain, you pretty much are at peak.

How much more do you need to see of the Emperor and his new economy clothes before you realize the parade is over?

I agree: if someone makes a forecast about crude oil, it's not fair to point out that "all-liquids" are still growing.

OTOH, a forecast about crude oil is of only academic interest: it's "all-liquids" (perhaps adjusted for quality) that matters.

Is it really?

I would say that it is the mean and maximum production cost per barrel that matters most, and that conventional crude being the cheapest liquid fuel base to produce and use is a good place to start when figuring out the trend on that cost.

If conventional crude production is declining then the mean production cost of liquid fuels should be increasing with impacts on volumetric demand resulting from that increase, even if there is the capacity to produce higher quantities of the higher cost liquid fuels.

Crude production levels are certainly important, as crude is by far the biggest component of all liquids.

OTOH, pricing doesn't really relate to production costs in the way you describe. Pricing comes from markets, and the balance of supply and demand. Prices rise (or fall) to the level that balances supply and demand. Production costs certainly have an important impact on production levels, especially in the long run, but they don't have much to do with pricing in the short run.

High cost resources will not be brought to market if the price doesn't support them.

If high cost resources are necessary to maintain supply levels because low cost resources are declining, the price will necessarily increase until people find it profitable to bring those high cost resources to market.

Since the increased cost will price some users out of the market, it can reasonably be expected that volumetric trade will be at a lower level given the new equilibrium price point than it would have been with the previous product mix.

Note that I am *not* talking about short term price changes, but about medium to long term trends where producers have time to react to price signals. Short term price signals are just a bunch of monkeys rolling dice.

I agree.

My point: it is overall liquid fuel production levels that matter. Now, of course crude oil production is the most important component of liquids, and therefore forecasts of crude production are an extremely important component of overall forecasts. Perhaps my description of it being "of academic importance only" was too strong.

Nevertheless, utltimately it is the total that matters, not the components. If crude production is flat, and others like NGL and ethanol are supplying a large increase, then we're seeing a real increase. Or, if crude is falling, but others like NGL and ethanol are supplying enough to keep production flat, then production is flat.

These distinctions are important to forecasts of pricing and supply.

OK, I am not saying you are wrong, because you obviously aren't.

I am trying to make the point that the total liquids number is going to be more strongly influenced by the conventional crude number than it appears at first glance because there are multiple mechanisms by which the conventional crude number influences the total liquids production. These mechanisms boiling down in the simplest expression to volume and price influence on the aggregate.

Which means that while there are a lot of sources other than conventional crude, the conventional crude profile is likely to be of greater importance than any other single component of the total liquids production until it drops to the point that it no longer has much of an impact on anything.

there are multiple mechanisms by which the conventional crude number influences the total liquids production.

I'm not sure what you mean. I would think there would be one mechanism operating in different ways depending on supply and demand responses: if crude becomes more difficult to produce, then prices will go up, or volume will go down, or both.

Certainly we agree that crude is the single largest component, and therefore the single most important factor in the market.

Nick and toilforoil,

I appreciate your comments but disagree with most of what you said. Both of you mention the demographic transition, so let's start there. The basic model argues that with economic growth an economy will experience first lowering of death rates, followed by lowering of birth rates, leading to a stable population with low birth and death rates. This model was originally developed on the basis of historical observations of European demographic change. It is not a scientific model and its predictive power is limited, if not nonexistent. Nothing in the DT model, for example, predicted that in Russia the birth rate would drop well below the death rate, leaving it with a declining population. IF we are approaching limits to growth, one of which would be the reaching of peak oil, THEN future economic growth in poor countries, in order to bring about their demographic transitions, will become more difficult. There is NO guarantee that the DT model will continue to operate over the next 50 years.

Nick, the U.S. has already undergone a demographic transition. Most of our growth today comes from immigration and the children that immigrants produce. If adding 30 million people in a decade is not a problem for you, then you must accept that such growth will at the very least accelerate our reduction of world oil supplies once a peak is reached (if it hasn't been already).

Toilforoil, The Empty Cradle is typical of books that are written by people who are so concerned about economic growth that they have never bothered to read a book on ecology or, probably, any other scientific topic. The very nature of neoclassical economics requires growth, hence pretends that Earth's resources are finite. I assume, perhaps boldly, that most readers on this site understand that many resources, e.g. oil, are available in finite amounts. IF you create a system that requires growth to maintain itself, THEN you have created a system that cannot be sustained, period. The Empty Cradle is a good example of a book that accepts the basic tenets of modern neoclassical economics then worries that economic growth cannot be maintained without demographic growth. The author wants nations that have been through the DT, many of whom are in what is now called the 2nd DT (where growth is already zero or negative), to develop policies to encourage women to have more children. In a world of finite fossil fuel resources, this makes no sense at all.

Why do you think we need more people? Our numbers are already coming at the expense of many other species, to say nothing of a host of other environmental problems, many of which have been created by the very economic system that is fed by our growing numbers. What kind of planet do you want your progeny to inherit?

If any other species of sizable mammal on the planet had more than quadrupled its numbers in the last 110 years then I suspect we'd be concerned, if not entirely distraught.

As for the ship analogy, it makes no sense either. The ship's behavior is predictable; the behavior of humans is not.

The very nature of neoclassical economics requires growth

Could you expand on that?

I didn't say we need more people. I said that we're going to get more people and then we're going to get less.

Identifying Longman with neo-classical economics does not affect the relevance of the demographic analysis which points to a peaking and then declining population; it only helps to explain why Longman thinks a declining population is a problem.

That Russian population has declined more precipitously than observers expected does not invalidate the science of demography anymore than underestimates of artic warming invalidates climate science.

Unless you are prepared to say who should die, when and how, and are prepared and able to go out and start killing tens of millions, you will have to get used to an increased population over the next several decades. Famine will not take care of your concern, nor will disease or war, if the history of the last two hundred years is any indication.

How do we minimize the increase? I've mentioned some of the ways in other posts: provide social security, especially food security; add complexity to the local economy and thereby raise the cost of raising children; promote family planning.

How do we minimize the environmental impact? I would start with carbon taxes/import duties reflecting carbon inputs.

How do we minimize the environmental impact? I would start with carbon taxes/import duties reflecting carbon inputs.

It's infinitely easier to reduce CO2 emissions than it is to reduce the number of people.

Hi toilforoil,

Unless you are prepared to say who should die, when and how, and are prepared and able to go out and start killing tens of millions, you will have to get used to an increased population over the next several decades.

Come on .. this is a false choice. I don't know of anyone who advocates an awareness of the global population, that is proposing this solution. Most of us are simply saying that the problem needs to be recognized and rational policies developed. The USA has no policy and under previous administrations there were totally stupid policies. Most entrenched BAU interests want population growth - we should explain why that is a bad idea.

The important point here is that resource consumption, especially FF consumption, is much, much easier and faster to change than population.

Pursuing ZPG is certainly a good idea, especially because the most effective policies are deeply humanitarian, but it's not going to have a big impact in the next 20 years on climate change, PO, or other things like that.

"2. Simulation Models

a. Authors often make huge assumptions about the assumed functions and the parameters of the model.

b. Models are often unstable and finely balanced between positive and negative feedbacks. They may omit the role of inertia.

c. While models may fit past data well, they often have poor predictive powers."

My dissertation in 1997 ended up being mostly about points b and c, which was not the original plan. I was wondering if any progress had been made there, and it looks like not. At least I had point a pinned down pretty well. And it still didn't help.

By the way, keep those points in mind when people start going on about the latest climate models. A sufficiently complete model can fit past data to any desired degree of accuracy. That implies precisely nothing about its ability to predict the future.

With the title of this thread containing the phrase "Mathematical Models", I assumed we would see WebHubbleTelescope posting the better way of modeling.

But of course. Most of the people make the same fatal mistake that has infected Wall Street and anyone that has blindly curve fit assuming normal statistics. Stochastic disorder and fat-tail statistics rule, and as long as modelers avoid this reality we will get more of the same old useless analysis.

None of the author's categories 1 through 4 acknowledge this situation either, which doesn't surprise me.

Stochastic disorder


Its very confusing... :>)

better way of modeling

Pretty much every semi-intelligent creature "models"
(we're not talking fashion here)

The activity is essential for survival.
Consider a lioness or a cheetah in the African plain stalking a potential prey.

Before investing energy into the chase, the predator does some sort of EROI calculation coupled with other predictions: i.e. the wind is blowing this way, distance to prey is so and so, attention state of prey and his herd are such and such, my energy reserves and depletion rates are as follows ...

But no model is perfect.
The hunter cannot foresee the hidden loose rock he will step on and stumble over during the heat of the chase.

It's the same for us and our modelings of the Peak Oil scenarios, of economic development scenarios, etc. We can't possibly see every Black Swan that might upset the validity of our current models. Yet model we must.

Speaking of models
Here is his eminence, Lord Monkton, predicting Hurricane Earl


Another great post Gail.

Double curve fitting model

It seems that the main flaw with curve fitting models is that the URR estimate used at the time of the model is always destroyed by new finds and turn out to be too low. Wouldn't an obvious step be to curve-fit the URR first--take historic estimates of URR and fit a logistic curve on the increases in URR to estimate the ultimate final URR in the year 9999, then use that URR for the curve fitting of actual production to find the peak oil date?

Could you update the "Peak oil update" section of this website, please?

The observed data are one year old, and I'm very interested to see where they are now with respect to the model projections.

This will be useful to validate the subject of this post, too.


I'll see what we can do. Sam Foucher hasn't produced any updates recently.

I would just like to point out that in model type #2 the price variable is considered exogenous when, in reality, it is endogenous. This is a fundamental flaw.

As far as modeling the future goes, I would just say "Taleb." That doesn't mean that we give up, however. We just need to accept the fact that we cannot be precise in our predictions and that, for peak oil, we'll have to settle for a general concept and a range of dates.

Taleb is very interesting to read but frustrating in that he never pulls the trigger in using any real math.
Contrast that to Didier Sornette, who gets his hands dirty and actually works the math.
Taleb gently mocks Sornette in the Black Swan, but I would believe anything Sornette said before taking Taleb at his word.


I may actually agree with you on one or two points, though not with much else. Physics is a science; demograph is not, nor is economics.

Homo sapiens have been around for about 200,000 years but the last two hundred years have been the most extraordinary in our history as a species. The next two hundred years will not be like the last two hundred, in part because the last two hundred saw us rapidly and frivously consume the finite supply of fossil fuels.

Population growth results when birth rates exceed death rates. To suggest that I or anyone should decide who is to die makes no sense. Rather, we should be focused on doing everything possible to discourage births. Condoms and IUDs are far cheaper than drilling new oil wells in fields that are getting both harder to find and more expensive to develop. Your suggestions of providing food security would help, as would empowering females, educating them, etc.

You, Longman, and many others treat projections of future populations as if they were somehow givens, a fait accompli. But that is nonsense. If you look back through the history of population projections, you'll find how poorly they've fared. The U.N. makes its projections based on assumptions about the future course of birth and death rates, but those assumptions may or may not describe what will happen. We do not have to add another 2-3 billion people to the planet and it is high time that we consider the ecological as well as economic impacts of doing that. As I've said before, we don't have a shortage of resources, we have a longage of people.

Whenever peak oil occurs (if it hasn't already), it will affect world food supplies and prices. Hints of this have been seen already, with the current grain problems in Russia being only the latest example.

I would like to see a carbon tax, but it is a political dead end.

The next two hundred years will not be like the last two hundred, in part because the last two hundred saw us rapidly and frivously consume the finite supply of fossil fuels.

Nah. We have plenty of energy: wind, solar, nuclear, and, god help us, coal and oil-shale (for burning, not liquid fuels).

PO is a temporary problem. We'll fix it much faster than we'll change population levels.

Good luck.
But the history tells a different story.
See "Collapse" from Jared Diamond.

Fundamentally, withstand a major change as Peak Oil is a matter of choices, but select the correct choice is matter of cooperation, wisdom and awareness.

All of them seem to be at very low levels, at present.

I'm familiar with "Collapse". Please note that most of the examples of true collapse are small and isolated societies. Many things we might think of as collapse are really not: most societies don't fall down spontaneously, they are pushed. That might seem like a minor distinction, given that resource limits can make societies less resilient in their response to pushes, but it's not: history is a long series of competitions, which usually could only have one winner - somebody had to lose.

cooperation, wisdom and awareness. All of them seem to be at very low levels, at present.

These things are relative. Note that wind and solar installations in the US have grown through both Republican and Democratic administrations, and that EVs have a decent amount of bipartisan support. Further, both Europe and China are pushing wind, solar and EVs very hard.

Hi Nick,

As I've said many times before - you are a great resource for proposing many technical strategies for avoiding nasty consequences of declining FF supplies.

But, I really do agree with glp and often wonder why you resist the obvious problem with global population growth? You keep saying we have "plenty" while at the same time you acknowledge the issues with GW. To me these (and other) issues are inseparable and keep coming back to global human population. You seem to think that it is futile to try to influence population growth. China claims that its policy has prevented 300M new humans - the size of the USA. In the USA we tend to condemn China for its human rights abuse because of their family planning policies. I give China credit for facing this issue. Why should the USA not face the issue?

You seem to think that it is futile to try to influence population growth.

No, I just think it's the wrong paradigm with which to approach resource issues. Our impacts on the environment, including CO2, species extinction, and resource consumption (especially FF consumption), are much, much easier and faster to change than population.

Pursuing ZPG is certainly a good idea, especially because the most effective policies are deeply humanitarian, but it's not going to have a big impact in the next 20 years on climate change, PO, or other things like that.

I give China credit for facing this issue.

I do too.

Why should the USA not face the issue?

It should. I'd like to see better policies in the US, including elimination of subsidies for children, much better contraception/family planning, etc., etc. I'd like to see much better policies towards family planning in other countries, especially with regard to the "gag rule".

Still, these things are emotionally difficult for many people, and I think the priority for our limited resources for economic/social change have to go more towards eliminating our environmental per-capita impact, rather than our number of "capita".

Frankly, a lot of the emotional energy that is invested in pop control seems to come from fear of immigration, and fear of growth of other ethnic groups. Europeans (including those in the New World) will have to come to grips with the fact that their relative large share of world population in 1950 was a peculiar and temporary thing.

Hi Nick,

We agree on many things, but we have a different POV on population. Just as you are passionate about the potential for a variety of technical solutions, I feel the same way about population.

As regards technology, we have lots of technology for birth control: condoms, birth control pills, morning after pills, vasectomies, hysterectomies, abortion, adoption, etc. The problem is the lack of understanding the problem. I feel we need to keep beating the drum regarding population overshoot. With really good family planing and the adoption of many of your technical solutions, we could go a long way toward averting the worse consequences of our planetary issues.

The immigration issue is a distraction. The first question that needs to be answered is how many people should live in the US (same question in every country)? From there we can debate citizen births vs immigration. I have worked in many places in the world and have zero prejudice against any particular heritage. Until we answer the population question we are just "blowing in the wind".

Perhaps we will both be disappointed.

Our points of view are pretty close - it's really a matter of emphasis and priority.

Wouldn't you agree that even a large reduction in population growth isn't going to have a big impact in the next 20 years on climate change, PO, or other things like that?

Further, I think our current way of life is unsustainable whether our population is 500M or 10B (what was the population of Australia or N. America when all of the large mammals were extinguished 10k years ago; what was the population of the US when the passenger pigeon was extinguished?), while a sustainable lifestyle could be achieved with either 500M or 10B.

Peak Oil or Peak Energy?

So oil (all liquids?) has peaked in 2005. I wonder how overall energy production has fared since then? Has it also peaked, or is it still rising? When is the projected peak for all energy production? Should there be one?

One thing seems reasonably likely in respect to modeling the future of oil.

The people doing the work are getting to the point that they do literally know more and more about less and less at a very rapid clip.

My own wag is that within a decade, we will know to a certainty within a small range of error just how many deposits of oil , methane hydrates,shale oil, and other hydrocarbons exist, where they are, thier approximate sizes, and how deep they are buried.

At that point the modeler's real work will be reduced to deciding what economic assumptions should be applied in projecting extraction rates.

For both crude and all liquids, the most recent peak was the first half of 2008 (if we measure by year, world crude production was 70,000 bpd less in 2005 than in 2008, but: this is statistically insignificant, and monthly and quarterly production levels were higher in 2008 before demand crashed). Both are rising again, so we still don't know.

For better or worse, we have enormous amounts of things to burn: coal, "oil shale", even peat. We won't run out any time soon.

It's very likely that we will turn to wind, solar, nuclear etc before we begin to have significant problems with finding enough things to burn (with the possible exception of China, which seeems to be working extra hard to use up all their coal). For instance, coal consumption fell sharply in the US in 2009, due in large part to competition from gas and wind.

How long approximately will it take to to double installed wind capacity in the US ?

Well, it took about 2 years last time: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_power_in_the_United_States

World stats: http://www.wwindea.org/home/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogcatego...

Wind is slightly more expensive than nat gas (about 2 cents per kWh at the moment), so continued growth depends on continued commitment to reducing coal pollution, especially CO2.

When is the projected peak for all energy production? Should there be one?

Sure...but I think peak hydrogen is still way off in our future. And until someone puts the kibosh on the local nuclear furnace it shouldn't be much of an issue.