A personal question

For those who are new to the site, it may not be immediately obvious that I am the geek/nerd/worm etc component of our site.  Normally this would be of relatively little comment, but I was involved in a discussion at lunch that may change how I react with this site.

We were discussing NOLA and one of my colleagues (favored of the MSM) mentioned that in the days after Katrina he was often asked if there was a cartoon out there that could explain the floodwall failure.  He said that there never was a site he could point to.

Well, as Prof G is aware, my hobby is 3-D modelling and I had debated, in my mind, whether to post a series of about 4 pictures explaining why the flood walls failed.  I decided that it was enough off topic that I should not do so on this site.  But, since this is not a single issue, but may relate to some of the things that develop down the road, it seems only fair to poll our readers.  Particularly given that Super G has provided the rather neat option that allows a poll.  So if you can accept that I really don't undertand how to set this up - here should be the question:

[editor's note, by Super G] The poll wasn't working, but now it is. Basically I just deleted it and added it again. I'm not really sure why that worked.

Here's the poll.
Can't seem to find any way to vote on this poll!
(Poll isn't letting me vote). I vote for putting this analysis up there. It's "close enough". I would hope we could stray "one area over" sometimes (eg global warming news because it impacts on decision-making about LQHCs so much).
Grin, well I guess I don't quite know how to work this yet - but I would appreciate comments on the intent of the question.

And thanks for your patience


Go for it...I watch this website along with the National Hurricane Center.  They go hand in hand.
How about explaining that a sustainable society must be built on sustainable foundations:

Here is a picture:

The foundations on the broken levees were defective according to some reports


I would say go for it.

Peak Oil to me is a symbol of the finiteness of the resources on which this current civilization is based. For example, along with Peak Oil, there is also "Peak Rubber", and also the fact that we are depleting other energy sources as well.

So we have to look at how we as a human society approach the process of Planning our actions. For example many of the problems we face in "Peak Oil" come from the concept of the time value of money, or the time value of consumption. This process tends to devalue future generations upon this earth.

In fact one of my Business school professors called it the single most problematic concept in planning for the future.

You've done a great job of explaining lots of phenomena in your past posts. The NO levees are, admittedly, tangential, but they would find an interested audience here. Please put them up.

Hopefully this will lead you to develop additional 3D graphics for the site to illustrate your excellent commentaries. Help us understand what "Nintendo geologists" see.

I care less about how narrow or wide the subject matter is as much as I care about keeping this site valuable. This is one of the few places I can come where I'm not completely subjected to the "right" or the "left". Where I find many people who are intelligent, informed, open minded, realistic, opinionated, concerned, savvy, and action oriented. That's not easy in this world. If this problem is even half as big as some of us think it is - we're in for an insane ten to fifteen years without much ability to know where we're  going. My feeling is that there really isn't any topic that won't be somehow related to the "peak" and the consequences that may follow. Moreover, I trust this group enough to steer the ship in the right direction should we stray.


PS: Go Sox!

I come to the oil drun because you link to people with actual data and models.
I don't want off topic opinion, but if you can give data or models to things that are tangentially related then sure go for it.
I guess I am saying that the further you go off topic the more important quality becomes.
Half of this site (at least) is off topic opinion. A little extra won't hurt.
  I think it would be great.
It is all useful data, and
it all pertains to peak oil.
(As oil gets more and more expensive, a
lot of things like building levies for ever
more powerful storms won't get done.)
  A tangential question: What happens
to the economics of the hyper-hyped
oil sands projects when the cost of natural
gas triples?
Since a lot of my posts are "Maybe -- it goes with the wine", I'd like to put my 2c in on the poll.

But seriously, I'd love to see the levee stuff accompanied by an explanation about the degree of prior negligence that led to their failure. Peak oil affects so many things and vice versa, a strictly narrow focus just means that we're talking about the same stuff over and over again.
I think posters should use their judgement to decide what is appropriate or not, and they should not take it too hard if reader comment about something being a bit too far removed and off-topic.

That way, we keep it organic and the site can adapt to things like massive huriccanes and such.

Hmmmm! Didn't post, I'll try again.


Do they really know what caused the failure yet?  It was my understanding that the engineers were in not in agreement on the cause of the levee failures.  


With reports of a runaway barge that may have crashed through the Industrial Canal, an LSU expert who rejects the theory  that "overtopping" breached the 17th Street levee, and even rumors of explosions -- and now the documents from 1990s court proceedings suggesting structural weaknesses -- we may never know definitively what caused any of the floodwall failures, let alone all of them.

Nevertheless, I come here for solid, original (and scientific) analysis, so I'd be interested in any insights about what happened.

It's not an analogous comparision, because here the evidence is incontrovertible -- but while we're at it, why don't we debate whether WTC was a controlled demolition, or whether a plane really hit the Pentagon?

Is this post serious? Really. To me it borders on comedy. For my own knowledge, let me know. I'm curious.
Actually it was.
Maybe it was a set up, maybe some important people turned their heads the other way. I'd even go so far to say that the arguments above are more convincing than the arguments against (once you take out the societal inertia component in the balancing of the various theories). But since most folks are unwilling to even consider such things, why discuss them when we could be finding ways (through drawing in other disciples/areas of interest like detailed NOLA analysis) to get people really concerned about PO and its interaction with the looming ecological catastrophe.
It is interesting to see how some occupations can "collide" head on with our interest in peak oil... Imagine you're working in the car industry, or the tourism sector... or just in some part of the consumerist industry...

I am in such a position... and I wrote this just to let the steam off... (would be nice to hear some oppinion about this, what happens if your mind and your job go in opposite directions?)

I feel your pain.  I'm an engineer, currently employed in the field of highway design.  My other skills are also high-tech (3d design and graphics, computers, etc.).  

But I think workers today understand that nothing is forever.  Peak oil may mean a much bigger disruption than, say, the switch to integrated circuits or the collapse of the aerospace industry were, but we'll adapt.  Lots of people find themselves having to switch fields for one reason or another.  There are just going to be a lot more of us this time.

Peak Oil is orders of magnitude a bigger problem than the switch from vacuuum tubes to transistors. It is a Category 6. It is a tsunami. People could not "adapt" to the December 2004 tsunami. It wiped out everything.

Oil is not simply another source of "energy". It is plastics. It is roadways (asphalt). It is in everything. I strongly suggest you sit through the entire Fate of Humanity show:
to get a better grasp of what is involved.

Sorry to be the bearer of depressing news.

Dude, I know all that.  I'm an engineer.  I understand the laws of thermodynamics.  I know what we make out of oil, and how dependent we are on it.  Moreover, my father is an agronomist.  So I well know we are "eating oil."  

I always have, actually, since Dad told me about Malthus at  when other dads were telling their kids bedtime stories.  Maybe that's why I'm not particularly upset about it.  I've been expecting it all my life.

My dad told me bedtime stories. My dad told me he was 101% sure the smart people up there are taking care of everything. Guess I feel betrayed.

What I do not share with you is this faith-based belief that our society will magically adapt. Exactly how are we going to adapt? What mechanisms exist in our society to allow it to adapt? There are all too many status quo mechanisms that prevent it from adapting.

FYI, I used to be an engineer. I used to worship at the altar of Murphy's law and Mother Nature's laws. Then I defected into a work world where you merely have to "persuade" people of what is true and what is not. In this new world, I find that people are highly irrational. They think they "think", but mostly they operate off of raw emotions. They have no concept of what critical thinking is is.

And guess what? It is these irrationally exuberent people who have the power and control the directions in which our society moves. Take a look at the massive Energy Bill that Congress recently passed. You call that "adaptation"?

The person I was responding to was talking about his career concerns.  I was responding only in that limited area.  He's worried about having to switch careers, and I was just pointing out that everyone who chooses a high-tech field knows it probably won't last forever.  

After all, if the "sudden crash" scenario comes to pass, and he's freezing to death in the dark, I doubt career concerns will be high on his list of priorities.  

I certainly don't think we will "magically" adapt.  We will adapt, no doubt, but it could be brutal.  

I am sure we will not change until forced to...but I think we are already being forced to.  The high price of gasoline has already started demand destruction.  People are driving less, spending less, buying smaller cars.  George Bush, Mr. "We need to encourage consumption," is rolling out a national energy conservation plan this week.  Dracula is calling on his vampires to become vegetarians.  Reality eventually impinges even on those who make their own reality.

Of course, in the long run, a slow collapse could be even worse for us, but that's another story.

Clearly the peak oil issue has ramifications throughout all of modern society. You could say it is a major component of the 'ecology' of our culture. So, I'd say that as long as a posting is informative, fact-based, and clearly related to an energy situation or issue, go ahead. As some commentator said, if we stick narrowly to peak oil, we just keep repeating ourselves. The cultural (and infrastructure) implications of peak oil seem to me to be fair game. I personally am not in favor of getting dragged off into 'conspiracy' territory --even if that were to be fact based.
You run the risk of becoming another peakoil.com, which you need a machete to navigate.

Stay peak oil focused....Please.

P.S. I, too, could not find a button to select in the poll.
I'm unsure where I stand on the cartoon. But if I semi-hijack this as an open thread, I'd like to say that perhaps TOD should have two very close focuses. Peak oil, and peak energy. The two are starting to mix here already; there is even natural gas NYMEX prices on the price charts now. And I believe the two are pretty closely linked; if it looked like the world had a near infinite supply of natural gas, consider how trivial peak oil would seem then.

But I guess regarding your cartoon, while I'd probably like to see it, on the same hand since you're asking this in a more general realm, I'd dislike seeing TOD lose it's focus.

Perhaps include blogs/diaries for each of the editors (well, the editors who want to participate), and they can use that area to post/discusss some things which are further from the focus, but still quite interesting in context.

That's a great idea! Maybe along with the local areas of the site, have one for impacts/solutions/philosophical debate
I'd like to see some discussion of natural gas as well, since it is closely related, we have peaked in North America, and we'll be feeling the impact of NG supply issues this fall and winter.
It seems to me that we've spent more site space, time, and effort debating whether this sort of thing should or should not be in than if it were just quietly put in to begin with and left at that.  

I personally feel that if a photo of a damaged oil rig is acceptable fodder for this site, then why not a simulation of the levee failure, which caused the flooding which caused Katrina to be such a catastrophe for New Orleans which in turn brought all sort of questions about survivability, sustainability etc?

Besides, from a purely technical standpoint I am extremely curious as to the current thinking about why and how the levee failed.

I'd be interested more so in finding out how and why our "conservatively responsible" ownership society failed.

(One of underlying theories of our society is that when people are made privately liable for properly completing a contracted project, be it the building of a levee wall or the building of an energy infrastructure, the people will behave responsibly and rationally and provide society with the best that can be obtained for the expended level of funds. In other words, the markets will provide the most "efficient" outcome, given the limited resources available for seeing the project to conclusion. This appears to not have happened with the defective levees of New Orleans. Why?)

Perhaps people are not rational actors. Or perhaps the poor building of the levees (underfunded by govt) was the "most efficient" outcome in the view of the elites/people who built them. Of course the poor folk who got flooded may disagree, but what do the folks that built the levees care for them (until they get pissed off that is).
Very good point.
  Somebody has to make those "hard hard choices".
   And someone else has to suffer for the stupidity
       and selfishness of the first somebody
         (the first man or first lady).
I agree the main focus of "The Oil Drum" should stay on Peak Oil.

However, now that you gathered together all us researchers, engineers, geologists and business people in one place.  Maybe, it is time we took the next step and started a weekly discussion about solutions to the peak oil problem.  Namely, Solar Energy, Wind Power, Biomass, Hydro Electric, Geothermal, Hydrogen Fuel Cells, Electric Cars, Biodiesel, Ethanol, and even a discussion of Nuclear, Fission and Fusion as well as other possible permanent alternatives.

I imagine something similar to the Oil Tech Talk on Saturdays.  We could really get into the details behind the different alternative fuels / energies and debate the positives and negatives to each one.  We could start the discussion with a technical brake down of how one of the alternative fuels / energies function and go from there with discussion and analysis.  We could put all of this analysis, in the context of possible depletion rates for both conventional oil and hydro carbon energy.  Example: How much Ethanol and Biodiesel are needed if Oil has a depletion rate of 2% annually, what about 5% annually?

I keep hearing that, "We need to educate the public about the coming, Peak in Oil production".  However, now that the public is finally listening, we should start talking about the solutions, in addition to the problem.

We all know, there must be lead-time of at least 5 years, before any solution(s) can come online to replace the decline in oil production.  So lets begin the debate of which alternative fuels / energies are most economical, scalable and sustainable.

One of the greatest things about "The Oil Drum" is it's wealth of knowledgeable people.  We should tap into this knowledge base and start seeking solutions.

If no one else will write this weekly Tech Talk for the alternative fuels / energies, I would be happy to volunteer to write it.  Since the Oil Tech Talk is on Saturdays, and we don't want to distract any one from that.  Maybe this Alternative Fuels / Energy Tech Talk could be every Sunday.

Everyone, please let me know what you think of this suggestion.

You list several things as solutions that are not solutions, such as biofuels. Note: Many of the suggestions are problematic, expensive, delayed; that's not what I'm talking about. Agricultural crops are worse than useless.


Wonderful, you disagree with Bio Fuels as an alternative or solution to the Peak Oil Problem.

This is why we need to discuss these different proposed solutions, we hear so often in the Main Stream Media and from other sources.

So let's begin with Bio Fuels.

I have heard different things on this issue.  From the agro-business you often hear that Bio Fuels produce 3 units of energy for 1 unit of energy used in production.  From other studies they claim the ratio is more like 2 units out for each unit in.  And then there are 1 or 2 studies that suggest BioFuel production uses 30% more energy then is created from the fuel.

There are many reasons these studies have different opinions.  
First of all, some studies are more comprehensive than others.  
To be accurate, any study must include all the energy involved in the following; fertilizers, pesticides, diesel fuel used in the farmer's tracker, energy used in the extruding process, energy used in the refinement of the Bio Fuel, as well as fuel for distribution and sale of the Bio Fuel to the final customer.  If a study does not include these basic energy inputs, it's report must be put into question right away.

Secondly, the studies are often done for different Biofuels.  Biodiesel is a dissolute and Ethanol is simply a 200 proof alcohol taken from Corn fermentation.  The process for each is very different and therefore the energy used in the process to create each fuel is very different.

Thirdly, there are efficient and non-efficient ways to create Bio Fuels.  If you ship, the ingredients half way across the country, it will require more energy then if you placed the refinement equipment in the middle of an agricultural center.

Fourthly, Bio Fuels are most commonly rejected because current agricultural production relies heavily on natural gas for Nitrogen and oil products for pesticides.  However, if natural gas were to disappear tomorrow, we could still create Biofuels for less then $4 per gallon.  (Which may soon be a competitive price.)  

This is why we need raise the level of the peak oil solutions debate.  There are many confusing facts and contradicting reports.

I'm not suggesting Biofuels are the answer to the problem, but rather that they could be used as a bridge for the next decade as we cross over to a hydrogen economy, or an electric economy or maybe something else.  You tell me!

Also, I never dismiss ideas out of hand.  There is a serious debate in Bio Fuels.  So let the debate begin.  

However, you never answered my original question.  Is it a debate worth having?  Should we have a weekly debate on Peak Oil Solutions?  Or are we all just going to sit on our hands and wait around for the End of the Oil Age?

Personally, I vote we start talking about solutions.  What ever they might be.  We are not all going to agree.  But Hell isn't that the point of a real and honest debate?        

I am very intrested to know if there are ANY green energy sources.
with wind and water we convert a cold energy into a hot one, thus increasing global warming.
the only energy I can see that is green is human.
I really need to know, myself and a number of friends are about to embark on a proto-type eco-village, we are going to start with solar panels and wind generators, but we expect these to degrade and we will not be able to afford to replace them in 10 years time (if anyone is making them then)
We want our energy to be as green as possible, we plan on sharing our warmth in the evenings in a communal hall. And having VERY small individual residences.
We also plan on using local indigenous plants for a food source where possible.
I would be very intrested in helping to research/find links for a site/discussion that looks at green futures.
"Global Warming" is attributed to the emission of green house gases like CO2 (carbon dioxide) and not to the temperature of the energy source you use.

Have you studied solar concentrators?

Take a look at:

Make sure to also become learned in "thermal insulators" and "specific heat":

I guess you in reality are starting with building energy efficient houses.
Well inulated, passiv thermal storage, well designed ventilation, passive
solar heating, etc.
Making the apartments VERY small is not required for that, you better keep a size that people are comfortable with, whatever that size is within reason.

You do anyway have to figure out something to do that is worth trading to be able to buy everytning you can not do by yourself. Why should parts for maintaining the villages infrastructure be too expensive?  You could with lots och lots of firewood and work make you own steel and glass but it would not be work or energy efficient.

How much electricity do you need? When do you need it? You could run an engine on wood-gas, preferably a fairly primitive one if you want it to be easy to service. You could also run it on rapeseedoil. Perhaps it is one of your four tractors? One stripped down for maintainance at all times, and three used for farming and one of those used for generating electricity during evenings and mornings to complement a small wind generator and solar panel.

Or if you have the capital, why not a 2 MW wind generator and trade power with the local grid? It gives a lot more energy per invested kg of material and do not need lots of lead accumulators for energy storage. Thus it is more green then small scale systems... (You can probably not afford it if I guess right. But it would pay for the spare parts to keep it running. )

And if you believe in dark times, what do people still need to buy in a deep depression? Figure out what you are good at doing for people who has little money and you will do ok.  To survive and prosper you need to be part of a working economy.

I agree we should talk about solutions. Just as long as we do it critically. I was just worried by the apparent lack of critical evaluation that led to you listing biofuels.

For each proposed solution, we should at least be looking at these questions:

What does it cost, in terms of money, non-ag land, and ag land, to set up?

What does it cost, in terms of money, energy, and (separately) oil/gas, to produce a certain amount of energy in usable form?

Can it produce transportation fuels?

How far up does it scale: How much energy is available from this source?

How far down does it scale: Can it be installed a bit at a time, or does it require large infrastructure investment?

How much development (time) will it take to become ready for large-scale investment?

How long does it take to install capacity?

What does it do to atmospheric CO2?

Does it have any other significant environmental benefits or problems?

Does it require "pre-crash" resources to build and maintain?

Is it a political favorite, or could it be made one? Conversely, will it be politically opposed? (Recognizing that politics includes many different interest groups.)

If these questions could be answered for the various energy-replacement technologies (including energy-transforming technologies like NGL and CTL and (ugh) hydrogen), then we would be well on our way to understanding what level of oil decline we could cope with without going into a crash.


I think this is a great idea.  Take advantage of the focus here, as you pointed out.  This is a rare and unique venue so lets make the most of it.
Liz Logan,

Thanks for the support.  Your right the focus and high level of intellectual debate on this site is rare and we should take full advantage of it, by looking for solutions as well as discussing the problems.

Prolific Researcher

I very much see all aspects of the problem and all reasonable solutions, both demand-side and supply-side, as within scope. No doubt the conversation will move around and shift over time as we learn more and as new developments occur. Personally, I'm still looking at LQHCs and then plan to take a harder look a the nuclear/plug-in hybrid approach after that.
I think that what Peak Oil encompasses is bound to change and TOD should follow where it leads.