Japan's Liquid Fuels Crisis

The following guest post is from Jonathan Callahan, a PhD chemist currently working as a data management / information access consultant. Jonathan writes on energy issues and data management at Mazamascience.com

There are so many issues that the Japanese must deal with in the immediate aftermath of their huge quake and tsunami — humanitarian relief, damaged nuclear reactors, and general disruptions and shortages of all kinds. While the ongoing troubles at the Fukushima reactors generate global attention, several recent articles have touched on shortages of liquid fuels that are very worrying. Japan is, after all, the #3 consumer of oil in the world after the US and China.[1] This post will quickly review some recent trends in Japanese consumption and refinery output of the most important liquid fuels — gasoline, kerosene and diesel.

Recent Articles

After Japan’s quake and tsunami, freezing weather threatens relief efforts (Guardian, Mar 16, 2011)

“What we urgently need now is fuel, heavy and light oil, water and food. More than anything else, we need fuel because we can’t do anything without it. We can’t stay warm or work the water pumps,” said Masao Hara, the mayor of Koriyama city, in Fukushima prefecture.

Power, fuel shortages worsen as wintry weather plagues quake-hit Japan (Xinhua, Mar 18, 2011)

But delivery of relief goods contributed from around the nation to evacuees and survivors still remains difficult due to shortages of fuel and transport vehicles.

The Japanese government ordered Thursday night that 300 fuel tanks will be dispatched to deliver 2 million liters of gasoline and light oil to the northeast region every day to ease fuel crisis. Kerosene will also be sent to the evacuation centers for the use of keeping the people warm.

The Japanese fuel crisis (The Oil Drum, Mar 21, 2011)

Fuel needs are not just gasoline and diesel for vehicles. With the bitter cold that remains over much of the north of Japan, and no electric power, kerosene is also needed for heating. For domestic heating many homes rely on kerosene stoves to heat individual rooms in use, rather than using central heating. Stocks had been falling before the earthquake, due to the severe winter this year. And with stocks being sent to help refugees, there are now shortages in other parts of Japan.

While there are some indications that the nuclear problems may be being brought under control, the problems of fuel shortage and the cascading problem of food, fuel, and other resource distribution that it brings with it are likely to remain in Japan for several weeks as the crisis continues.

TABLE – Japan refinery operations status after quake (Reuters, Mar 22, 2011)

Japan, the world’s third-biggest oil consumer, has 28 refineries with total refining capacity of 4.52 million bpd.

Six refineries operated by four firms with total capacity of 1.40 million barrels per day, or 31 percent of Japan’s total, had halted operations after the quake, the survey shows.

So far, three companies have restarted their affected refineries. JX Nippon Oil & Energy restarted its 270,000 barrels per day (bpd) Negishi refinery on Mar. 21. TonenGeneral Sekiyu restarted its 335,000 bpd Kawsaki refinery on Mar. 17, while Kyokuto Petroleum Industries (KPI) restarted its 175,000 bpd Chiba refinery on Mar. 16.

Fuel squeeze hits survivors in Japan’s tsunami-ravaged towns (Reuters, Mar 24, 2011)

A Trade Ministry official said shipments of petrol from elsewhere in Japan were being stepped up to the northeast and the government was reducing the mandatory reserve requirements that oil suppliers must maintain.

But for now, the shortages are exacerbating the chaos of finding and cremating dead bodies, clearing debris and restoring a semblance of normality in the disaster zone.

Nuclear crisis forces Japan to rethink energy needs (Los Angeles Times, Mar 28, 2011)

Tokyo’s iconic electronic billboards have been switched off. Trash is piling up in many northern cities because garbage trucks don’t have gasoline. Public buildings go unheated. Factories are closed, in large part because of rolling blackouts and because employees can’t drive to work with empty tanks.

All of these articles serve to highlight Japan’s dependence on liquid fuels to accomplish everything from transportation to home heating. To understand how this liquid fuels crisis may play out in Japan and world markets it is useful to look at recent trends of consumption, refinery output, imports and available stocks for different liquid fuels.

(All charts below come from the prototype JODI databrowser using the March 19, 2011 release of the Joint Oil Data Initiative database containing data up through December, 2010.)

Recent Trends for Gasoline

As seen in figure 1), Japanese consumption of gasoline has been fairly steady in recent years, even through the financial crisis and economic downturn of 2008-2009. Refinery output has been very closely matched to consumption with very little in the way of imports or exports. The typical 16 day supply held in stock is undoubtedly being drawn down very quickly at the moment.

Figure 1) Refinery production, consumption and stocks of gasoline.

Recent Trends for Kerosene

Japan, along with Korea, uses lots of kerosene for wintertime home heating. In the upper half of figure 2) we can see that refinery output of kerosene has been fairly steady while wintertime consumption has dropped in recent years due to warmer winters. This has allowed Japan to move from net imports to net exports of kerosene in recent years. Stocks of kerosene were already falling before the recent disaster. The cold weather immediately following the quake and tsunami has greatly exacerbated the current shortage of kerosene in affected parts of Japan. We should expect Japan to quickly run through any remaining stocks (bottom half) in this cold La Nina winter and be looking to import as much during the current cold spell as their port infrastructure can handle.

Figure 2) Refinery output, consumption and stocks of kerosene

Recent Trends for Diesel

The other petroleum-derived fuel that will be key in the short term is diesel. Figure 3) shows that Japan has seen a large decline in diesel consumption since 2002 according to the JODI data. This has been accompanied by a smaller decline in refinery output and has allowed Japan to become a net exporter of diesel. (Note that units are barrels per month rather than per day.) In the coming months, Japan will need huge amounts of diesel for reconstruction and to run diesel generators to make up for lost nuclear generation.

Figure 3) Refinery output, consumption and stocks of diesel


It seems clear that this liquid fuels crisis will be an ongoing one for Japan and may soon affect global markets for refined products. Several interdependent issues are important in understanding how this will play out:

  1. How much has consumption of liquid fuels dropped in Japan?
  2. How quickly can the more severely damaged refineries be brought on line?
  3. How quickly can Japanese import infrastructure be restored?

Right now it is clear that many Japanese will suffer through the current cold weather due to a lack of kerosene. Gasoline shortages are problematic but probably manageable unless a more serious nuclear meltdown requires a mass exodus from populated areas. This could be next to impossible given current supplies of gasoline. It is less clear from recent articles how important diesel is in the immediate aftermath of the destruction. Clearly, though, a lot of diesel will be needed in coming months for construction and rebuilding.

Best Hopes for Japan and the Japanese.

  1. Energy Information Administration []

What is required for a modern diesel engine to run on kerosene? Is there a logistical advantage to creating a single product suitable for heaters and diesel fuel. Maybe an additive for the kerosene. I just have been racking my brain thinking of any help with this issue. Send 10 million bicycles and 1 million pedicabs? That is about it for me goodnight. Pickup tomorrow.

The lubricity of kerosene is lower than that of diesel fuel, so I would argue that it would be hard on the engine to use straight kerosene unless you use additives of some sort.

I guess my real question is if there is any advantage? I can only see a storage and last mile transport advantage. I also see a retail delivery systems advantage. Can refiners do it? Does demand and pricing demands allow it? Does it help at all in the big picture? Maybe we just move to natural gas and be done with it, for us poster's lives anyhow? I think nuke is done in Japan for real. Like the Dolphin/Whale South Park episode, folks over there have gone all 'Guns of the Navarone' mad. The Japanese just internalize it.

Not that much different today. In years past, the high Sulphur content of diesel kept the injection pumps lubed up quite well, (popper injectors) and the larger engines with the pressure pumps/top control injectors, like Cummins Top Stop, and the Detroit Diesel 2 stroke crapolla worked fine.

I used to run Kero all the time when it could be gotten on the cheap,cheap, just dump a quart of motor oil in with each 100 gallons and you were off to the races.

Now, with extreme pressures and very tight tolerances, you could do it, but not for too long. It affects the injection systems, not the combustion end other than the temps. Also derates the HP, like running an oil field Diesel on Natural Gas/Propane mix with diesel fuel igniter.

Anyway, the older engines will run on just about anything that can get thru the injector nozzle, and has a decent Cetane rating, that's what is great about Mr. Diesel's invention. Even animal fats, in liquid form, have a cetane rating of between 50 and 60. More than enough to do well....and smell that Bacon!!!

The Martian

OH! Those stinkin' Gimmies. You could throw almost anything in the crankcase or fuel tank and they would keep on screaming. Hard of hearing today on account of 'em. Damn things.

Yair...but a 16v149 at full song with the turbos glowing was some thing to behold.

Jon, your graphs continue to bring to light many important patterns and challenges. Thanks!

One unforeseen consequence of this crisis may well be the slowdown of car-building globally ... as the parts industry in Japan may not recover in a timely fashion. This in turn could precipitate investment in non-automotive transport beyond Japan's borders, a desperate need in the peak oil context.

Perhaps Japanese policy-makers will see the folly of electric cars (since they are going to be producing much less electricity for a long time), sparing themselves another dead end. Perhaps they will see the folly of liquid fuels, since their economy is as vulnerable as ours to supply disruption.

Conclusion? Public transit (a novel concept) or even PRT?

Another scenario that can't be ignored... evacuation of Tokyo? Perish the thought, but we need to be mindful of the difficulties that haven't played out yet in Fukushima.

Perhaps they will see the folly of liquid fuels, since their economy is as vulnerable as ours to supply disruption.


they are going to be producing much less electricity for a long time

This is the "Olduvai Gorge" scenario. Are the Japanese going to beat us down the road?

Richard Duncan "The Peak of World Oil Production and the Road to the Olduvai Gorge" http://peakoil.blogspot.com/2005/03/peak-of-world-oil-production-and-roa...

Luis de Sousa & Euan Mearns "Olduvai Revisited 2008" http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/3565

Heading Out "Revisiting The Olduvai Theory" http://www.theoildrum.com/story/2006/3/6/135437/7111

What we are seeing is the beginning of the collapse of complex society. Japan may be the epicentre, but it is the fringes that will lose touch with industrial civilisation first. It is the uneconomic factories in the US and UK who will see shortages of critical spare parts first.

The parallels with the collapse of the Roman empire are striking. The killer blow was disaster at the centre - the sacking of Rome, but the empire disintegrated from the fringes inward from then on. The border defences were abandoned, the legions marched home or simply retired to their farms.

The wealthy Romano-Britons tried to pretend nothing had changed, but their slaves simply rebelled and you could not get the Hypercaust repaired for love nor money. One hundred years later and the land had been over-run by illiterate barbarian Anglo-Saxon invaders and the Roman cities lay in ruins.

Rome had already changed from a wealthy empire with a rich urban society and independent citizen farmers, into a society where the very rich, in order to avoid tax, fled to their estates and enlarged their comfortable villas, and bought up the land holdings of the by now impoverished owner-farmers - who paid all the tax - and instead used slaves to work the land. The essential wheat and oil (olive) for Italy and Constantinople that kept sweet the thus enlarged urban mob of disposessed jobless was brought from north Africa.

The free farmers had been the feedstock for an army of citizens, but by the end of the empire Rome couldn't find enough citizens willing to fight and had to use barbarian mercenaries. When these could no longer be paid as the cost of administration overwhelmed the exchequer, and a few total loss epoch ending battles permitted invasions and territorial loss, the economic base of the empire was whittled away. The troops could not be paid so they left. All the cities bar Constantinople were reduced in size by the end of the fourth century and after Diocletian's 'reforms' virtual serfdom was all that was on offer for the majority of citizens anyway. The barbarian takeovers often left impoverished Roman near-serfs no worse off, and sometimes better off since there were no longer military raids in search of goods in lieu of tax. And the barbarians were ultimately no longer in awe of Rome, since they demonstrated more vigour and knew that Roman words and ordinances were hollow threats with nothing to back them up.

There certainly are parallels with today. The move from small family firms and businesses to mega corporations where the citizens become wage slaves, and the insulation of the very rich from tax or any involvement in actual warfare are but two. Also, the Romans evolved kinder laws for the aristocratic classes and meted out far harsher punishments to the poor. The impossibility of supporting the military as the economic base shrank is another parallel, as was the fact that complacency and luxury allowed the richest classes to believe that the status quo would never change, and the poorest to stop caring one way or the other.

Thanks for the analysis, Ulpian. Differences Rome vs. today--7 billion people, an advanced civilization requiring computers and fossil fuels to run, and nuclear weapons?

It certainly isn't the same, but there are parallels, mostly with regard to the development of complex societies and maintaining them. Rome was rich while it could keep finding rich contiguous states to incorporate into the empire - and raid they treasuries - but once there was no profitable tribute accessible to fund the political, infrastructural and social engines of society the empire simply could not be afforded. Debasement of the currency was one way the government tried to meet its debts, but this caused astonishing inflation. Nothing new here then. If you choose to view easy tribute spoils as something a bit like easy cheap oil as the backbone of economic growth you might not be too wrong.

Certainly the world now is hugely bigger, and energy is now oil based, but the Romans depended on a well trained and loyal military and masses of slave labour, and a well organised maritime and road transport system. Without revenue and obedient labour, and with failing communication systems and a disintegrating defence system the game was ultimately up.

No comparisons are exact but all empires seem to follow a similar trajectory.

Two more differences:

1. A vital factor in the fall of Rome was the pressure of the barbarians coming from the outside. By contrast, we are not in danger of invasion by Martians. This will allow internal dynamics to work themselves out more fully.

2. Slaves in an agricultural society in antiquity had no way of co-ordinating a successful rebellion on the necessary widespread scale. The closest they got was Spartacus. Today, workers can & do form trade unions. On a global basis, free trade unions are growing strongly and have been for some years. Setbacks in industrialised countries like the US are outweighed by successes in the Third World. Of course, this is not given wide publicity in mainstream media.

Actually the barbarians were a constant threat to Rome and had been from the very beginning, even when Rome was a growing polity, but it gradually lost the economic ability and therefore capacity to repel them, and this is the decisive point.

Slaves could be looked on as simply the equivalent of machinery and slavery continued after the fall of Rome.

As I said the parallels are not exact, but there are pertinent similarities, mostly to do with complacency and political and consequently economic sclerosis.

to the editors:

- why are there no updated forecasts of production on TOD?
- why is there no monthly bulletin from Rembrandt?
- why has the oil megaprojects site on wikipedia not been updated?

... ?

off topic
i could give you many answers, but will offer the simplest - the truth

we are stretched for time and resources and never intended - 6 years ago - to be full time energy 'bloggers'
many of the wall st firms and even oil companies/agencies now 'get it' that 100mbpd capacity numbers going forward are fantasy -and thats before involving debt/credit/environment/social equity issues.
we are just keeping this portal open to be a repository of valuable energy related material, and a cyber home for those who have been passionate about learning about and sharing issues related to resource depletion.

We all have our different 'flavors' of what we see happening in the future. For me, I think this will all manifest in the financial markets/currencies and its very possible we have a 'surplus' of energy for the next 20 years under a vastly different system of claims. This is a minority view. Rembrandt is extremely busy working on looking at supply chains and costs of various energy sources to support various systems. Sam Foucher and others working on the Wikipedia megaprojects database have full time jobs - and the 'unexpected reward' from such analysis isn't what it once was - as there are 'for pay' analysts on wall st attempting similar things. And they have much more data now than we have free access to. Regarding production forecasts - they are far more economic - what can society afford - than they are geologic - at this point. Indeed, the decline rates written about here in 2005-6 were probably a little high (i.e. there is more oil coming out of old wells than we expected), but societies ability to pay for it is much less than we forecast back then - only a 20% in 2 years kiss from governments has allowed the current system to keep functioning reasonably - how long they can continue that is an open question (i.e. if govts had done nothing - GDP would be >20% worse than it is now).

In short - everyone here is both puzzle solver, volunteer, and to some extent civic activist -and given world events have our own individual to do lists and passions - and we're keeping the portal open but with lower input and lower aspirations. Partially (mainly) because it was created from scratch - and turned out to be kind of a special den of energy iniquity where people assemble to share/care/puzzle/wonder - an emergent property if you will - similar emergent properties might get us through whats ahead. Pay it forward and all that.

If a group of you want to collaborate to update the wiki project that would be great.

In other words, it's their problem and out of our hands. I tend to believe that every site has the potential to eventually go bureaucratic and stale.

The best bet is to start a separate initiative based on solid journalism and science and see how that takes off. I suggest to use this comments section to jump start it and get a bandwagon going.

be my guest - tho I will forward this to Sam and Rembrandt as I dont want to speak for them about where they are at. (In future pls take these questions to open threads/drumbeats)

This is a wonderful site and there is nothing quite like it.

We should all be very appreciative.

We should be. I think a great many are.

Huge kudos, Nate.

Indeed it is a wonderful site.

I have learned so much here.

I have found some comments to be extremely valuable and useful. I always read this site the longest of any!

Perhaps TOD is also going through its own problems of complexity :)

I've only been visiting the site for a little less than three years-I found it on the Google sidebar that appeared on my new computer when I finally replaced my Windows 95 (eventually upgraded to 98) machine. I have been held in awe by the dedication of the staff and editors. What selfless contribution of time and expertise! Volunteer efforts can only maintain that sort of energy level for so long and the editors and staff at TOD may well have set a new standard for just how long a quality effort of this type can last.

I do very much appreciate that they have chosen to keep the portal open. One never knows what will cause a knew critical mass of energy to emerge. The broad base that follows this site can take the ball and run at a moment's notice, as long as just enough quality content is posted to keep them checking in.

we are stretched for time and resources and never intended - 6 years ago - to be full time energy 'bloggers'

While I don't follow this site closely, I never see any appeals for "fresh blood". Instead I see the opposite; people who could contribute (like Alan, the railroad proponent guy), being driven away or giving up on the site.

We have occasionally put out appeals for fresh blood, but like running for president, anyone who wants to do it probably isn't qualified. ;-) A lot of people lose interest once they find out there's no money involved.

However, we have added some new blood. There's only so far that goes, though.

And Alan is still around. He is still posting comments regularly.

anyone who wants to do it probably isn't qualified. ;-)

True, as in 99.9% of all geologists and petroleum engineers. They have become indoctrinated enough to the point of being counter-productive to educating the masses.

Thanks to all the pointy-headed geniuses who generate information on this site.

I feel guilty that I am not contributing to the above issues but my ability to burn 3000l of fuel in a shift doesn't give me a lot of qualifications to generate information about the field.

For example I know that Rockman might be a hair stylist who has an online driller avatar but he sounds like he knows the industry from the inside.

So thanks to those of you who share your inside information.


Great post!
Somewhat off topic, but given that this is a "complex disaster",
an issue that impacts upon this, is liquids in general.

I have yet to see reports regarding capacity/status of:
Fresh water delivery infrastructure
Water purification facilities
Sewage management systems
Sewage treatment facilities
Desalination plants... ect, ect.

Radiation aside...
Two things that haunt the hell out of me:
(1) What is fresh water capacity in rolling blackouts?

(2) How do you truely test the water for natural/accidental contaminates and biological threats, if the water is radioactive, and you have to do such tests during rolling blackouts?

On topic, and also of importance, Worker "RE-placement". If there is a shortage of water, electricity, Fuel, and no toilets, workers have probably left to live with family elsewhere.

If your the gov where do you "rank" repairing refineries if your doing "nation scale triage" with limited resources? Important as fuel is, having SAFE drinking water, and not having people glowing in the dark is also of importance. If only for "Public Relations".

Im NOT trying to start a talk/debate on any of these issues.
But doing a timeline on anything in Japan,
needs to take this into account aswell.

Its truly saddens me to see the world is "moving on" past this, or seems to have a belief that the reactors are the WORST of it. I strongly suspect, the worst horrors have yet to arrive.

Its truly saddens me to see the world is "moving on" past this, or seems to have a belief that the reactors are the WORST of it. I strongly suspect, the worst horrors have yet to arrive

My father (Australian Air Force - New Guinea) and my wife's father (US Army - China, Burma, India) were in the South East Asia theatre 1944/1945.

We were both born in 1947 & grew up with the closeness of that combat.

For the last 3 weeks our hearts have been torn with sorrow and anguish for our fathers adversaries. We are truly sickened by the horror that has been unleashed on the Japanese people.

I am not religious but I am praying that somehow this nightmare can be solved.

And I don't think that the world will ever have the luxury of "moving on" past this. Which ever way this resolves itself March 11, 2011 will be a tipping point date firmly etched in world history.

We both hope that the Japanese can find the strength to get through this and that the rest of the world moves quicker to help them in their desperate time of need.

Cindy and Kevin Squire

Just to offer a little bit about where im coming from...
I was born in the 1970's, but I very much share your same feelings. I was just trying to say that people have "changed the channel" if you will. There is no way to "move on" from this. Its just too large.

I too have no faith in anything but humanity. Im searching my being, even though my mind tells me that there is a large risk Japan is now a "Failed State" in waiting. My heart doesn't want to let my mind go down that road. Anytime there is an event like this, I take it to heart. Were all human, just living under different flags, with different ideas. Some of us make mistakes about things, but that's no reason to suffer this.

I grew up hearing people talk of the threat Asia posed to the U.S. and world. People im my family still DEEPLY hold that idea today. And I'm looking at all of this and thinking: "How many loan payments in China will be late, due to parts not arriving on time? Will those events, so strain China banking system it combines with the housing bubble in China and "shakes markets"? Then consider the 6 million people in North korea with roughly only 21 days of food left as I type right now, AND whatever happens next in japan... does this do Asia in?"

I think there is a chance.
Tho, I don't see the "total collapse" that some others do. Just my belief, but the moment you have even one supply disruption in Insulin... you lose a lot of Food and Fuel demand. Not to mention all the other medicines out there, that missing one dose of, could prove fatal. I think that aspect of a "collapse" has been overlooked a little too much.

Then, I consider how much of the expected growth in demand for fuels, and food, that is based upon people only alive today because of American grain exports? I expect things will be horrible. Let no one mistake me. But, where others see 5 billion deaths and total failure, I only see 2 billion deaths in a world that has a new geo-politics, after.

A person would have to be insane to celebrate that difference.
I only mention any of this, because I think its important for those of us, like you and me, and everyone else here, who has an understanding of how complex and at risk the world is to offer hope in ANY form.

I've been fallowing this site for a LONG time now. I believe, the majority are altruistic, and even though we debate and ponder some really awful things, I think we all move with the best intentions. I think its importent to remind each other of that in dark hours like these.

For all that goes on here, I know that everyone has invested much time in their lives, to understand these things! We will be looking out for the people around us. Its not possible to be at a site like this, and lack a desire to save lives. We are the deeper thinkers. And we apply our minds, to where our hearts demand.

If ever we find ourselves in the same position as those in Japan, know people will be here. And all the other places people with good intetions gather. Motivated by heart and bashing our brains, to find out ways to understand, help, and save lives. Not one, asking for a thing in return.

When my heart breaks for people suffering,
its the intentions of people, like those here, that lifts me.
Thanks, All.

What is fresh water capacity in rolling blackouts?

A french friend of mine used to work until 18th march 2011 for Canon (he left with french ambassade's special flight and he is in France now) in Ota, a special ward under local autonomy law in Tokyo area. During the rolling blackouts just after the earthquake and tsunami (perhaps at 12nd, 13rd, 14th and 15th march) electricity cuts touched Ota but Canon buildings (and the near Canon-workers buildings as well) have never been left out a second of the electricity because of "block regulation" and because Canon has the right to receive for first electricity and even fuel for the emergency engine-generators they have into their headquarter. Canon has the same rights of a large city hospital because big companies rule Japan and is not a republican state, people do not retain supreme control over the government.
So, city administration, (big) corporations and electricity firms could regulate the blackout and continuing to send electricity to city's priorities like fresh water supply.

Strange comfort, LOL! But Ill take it and run!!!

Considering the disruption to recovery caused by all the fuel shortages in Japan it just shows how vulnerable we all are to fuel supply constriction. Fuel for pumps, both for drinking water and sewage removal, is esential. It would take very little to make any city uninhabitable in days and I hope we are all taking the right lessons from this nightmare.

One nuclear complex goes down and there is talk of evacuating half a country, not to mention damage to the world's oceans and a blight lasting - how long?- over half of Japan. Soon the economic impact will hit us all in ways that we actually feel rather than read about.

Aermotor Sales 800-854-1656 Sales Toll Free<br />

All very well, but what if I want the water now, not after the wind infrastructure has been put in place. I don't know about Japan's weather, but I do know that here we can have dead still days for weeks, during which time nothing wind driven works.

Perhaps if energy could be stored by pumping water uphill to drive turbines in the fallow wind periods...perhaps, but the feasibility, and the cost, and the time? As for wave power; that would be destroyed in tsunami like this.

The problems in Japan are now and people really do seem to be evacuating the capital.

"Perhaps if energy could be stored by pumping water uphill to drive turbines in the fallow wind periods.."

Drive turbines? Better to start with flushing toilets and other needs. Basic neccessities; shelter, food, water, sanitation, all of the systems we take for granted are being effected and what energy/fuel is available should be devoted to these things first.

Japan is fortunate in one respect: help from abroad is available. What happens to those societies who find themselves farther down the slope, on their own as their dominos begin to fall? Those who hold on the longest may be in for an even harder landing.

Got the basics?

All very well, but what if I want the water now, not after the wind infrastructure has been put in place. I don't know about Japan's weather, but I do know that here we can have dead still days for weeks, during which time nothing wind driven works.
Perhaps if energy could be stored by pumping water uphill to drive turbines in the fallow wind periods...perhaps, but the feasibility, and the cost, and the time? As for wave power; that would be destroyed in tsunami like this.

No wind option-

Storage option-

Edit: Thermal plant got wiped out. http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/01_08.html

And for a fifty story building?

A bucket with a system of pulleys and a rope.

And for a fifty story building?

People who work on top floors will get into great shape, climbing thje stairs (and carrying their own drinking water).

Tank on roof, windmill above. A rod or chain runs down to the submerged pump. Maybe use evil electricity and a solar panel too. The water is used as a mass balance and earthquake dampening system.

Edit: The tank sample might exceed the 9 meters, vacuum water column in atmosphere, limit. This just requires proper pump lift design and placement. Been done for 300 years maybe, I am not sure if the Dutch solved that one but the old Westerners did.

Japan gross oil imports from OPEC by country


Great graph Matt! According to the EIA Country Analysis Brief, in 2009 Japan imported 77% of it's oil from the Persian Gulf. I'm sure they would be concerned about what's going on there even without their home grown disaster.

We should not forget Japan's liquid fuel crisis is likely to push the U.S. over the edge into a double dip recession:


The obvious reason is rising oil prices. But that is only part of it. The Japanese are major producers of American made autos which still use critical components made in Japan that can not be easily replaced from other sources.

American housing already is in a double dip and the other major consumer item, autos, is about to join it. Car production in Japan is down and that means sales of Japanese made models in the U.S. will sink after the current supply is gone.

Dealers no doubt will charge what the market will bear on what they have left to sell whether made in Japan or not. That means inflation in car prices.

Add inflation of oil and food prices to the continuing drop in house prices which are a major store of wealth for most. With cuts in state and federal spending another leg down looks to be baked in the cake.


American made autos which still use critical components made in Japan that can not be easily replaced from other sources.

The Japanese do not have some magical secret to making the parts. All of those parts have very through specifications and design drawings. The auto manufacturers have almost surely by now sent out bid packages to other suppliers in the USA and Europe/Asia to get the needed parts manufactured outside of Japan for the time being. There are many US manufacturers of "aftermarket" repair parts that have the capacity and equipment to make the needed new parts for the US auto manufacturers. However, prices from the new part suppliers may be a bit higher than the prices from the previous Japanese suppliers?
It may take a month or two to get the new suppliers parts arriving at the auto manufacturers assembly plants, but it will be business as usual after that.
Japanese manufacturers may have a very hard time winning back a lot of this business from the new suppliers in the future when the Japanese manufacturers do get back to business as usual.

The net result may be that Japan auto parts manufacturing gets royally crushed. But the lag phase (time lag) to getting up and running these various new parts suppliers to capacity will be lengthy I bet.

This has been accompanied by a smaller decline in refinery output and has allowed Japan to become a net exporter of diesel.

I assume that a significant fraction of people reading that line understand that is not technically true.

The fact that Japan has all these refineries does not mean that is where the diesel originates. Japan is obviously a net importer of crude oil. If they relied on domestic production, its like one teaspoon per capita per day.

Thank hubble-
I read where you pointed out to me that Japan has just few wells. I do not realize how little oil Japan produced. They are not in charge of their energy policy at all, especially now. Like during WWII.

I should perhaps have stated more clearly that the charts above display national refinery output and national consumption, completely ignoring the crude oil imports that feed the refineries. Indeed, Japanese production of crude oil is essentially zero and Japan is a huge net importer of energy.

For clarification here is the set of definitions used in the JODI database:

  • Production -- Marketed production, after removal of impurities but including quantities consumed by the producer in the production process.
  • Closing Stocks -- Represents the primary stock level at the end of the month within national territories; includes stocks held by importers, refiners, stock holding organisations and governments.
  • Imports/Exports -- Goods having physically crossed the international boundaries, excluding transit trade, international marine and aviation bunkers.
  • Stock Changes -- Closing minus opening level. Positive number corresponds to stock build, negative number corresponds to stock draw.
  • Demand -- Deliveries or sales to the inland market (domestic consumption) plus Refinery Fuel plus International Marine and Aviation Bunkers.
  • Refinery Intake -- Observed refinery throughputs.
  • Refinery Output -- Gross output (including refinery fuel).

In the charts above, Demand is renamed Consumption while Refinery Intake and Refinery Output are not used.


Although their refinery output is not insignificant, it's far from relevant compared to their crude production/imports statistics.

It's relevant to the extent that if their refinery capacity takes a prolonged blow, this might indeed mean they need to import more refined oil, rather than just mere crude oil.

But in the end, what matters is how much total (crude mostly) oil they need to import, and from what I've read, it's looking like diesel is a particular liquid they are looking at to increase their import of to meet the energy demand created by the loss of nuclear energy.

This post is interesting, but by narrowing in on only refined oil it misses the point by some extent. The topic needs further discussion.

On a sidenote: Do you know if there's a JODI equivalent to your BP database? And do you know, or can at least estimate, when your BP database at Mazama will be updated for 2010 too? Last time I checked it was only for 2009.


Although their refinery output is not insignificant, it's far from relevant compared to their crude production/imports statistics.

In complete agreement. This post merely tries to give some background for understanding headlines concerning the current liquid fuels crisis in Japan. I also wanted to call attention to the JODI database which, despite its significant flaws, is a useful source of data for analysis. Lastly, I think this is a "teachable moment" concerning the importance of liquid fuels in an economy. By observing Japan's liquid fuels crisis we can better anticipate what might happen here (the US) or elsewhere if/when liquid fuels are in short supply.

I intend to write another post titled "Japan's Long Term Energy Crisis" in the next month or so which will investigate in more detail the emerging energy predicament in Japan with sections on oil, gas, coal, nuclear and renewables.

Regarding databases and databrowsers:

The JODI databrowser is updated every month with fresh data from the JODI database. But it is an unfunded project and currently only has the single plot type seen in the charts above.

The Energy Export Databrowser is updated every June when BP releases their statistical review.