The End of Oil
is well known among petroleum geologists that world oil production
will peak sometime in the next decade. One might quibble about the
exact timing, but all the believable scenarios put that date very
soon. The International Energy Agency forecasts the peak in 2012.
Some of the same people believe we are already at peak production
of "conventional oil."
this situation especially worrisome is that there is no sustainable
energy source on earth with an immediate prospect of replacing oil.
All other forms of energy combined, including natural gas, coal,
nuclear, hydroelectric, solar, and wind, would fail to equal the
easy, concentrated energy source that is oil. You may be surprised
that nuclear is included in this list, but the availability of nuclear
power is limited by the availability of nuclear fuel. Breeder reactors
may seem to solve the limited fuel problem, but they don't. They
are more costly and have major problems of their own, which is why
they have been discontinued in the US, UK, and France.
The peak in
oil production may not seem to be the critical point
all half the oil is still in the ground
but the peak is where
trouble begins. For one thing our economy is adapted to easy accessibility
of energy. As the economy grows, demand for energy increases. As
oil production slows down, the supply fails to keep up with demand
and prices start to spiral uncontrollably upward. Peak oil production
in the U.S. occurred in the 1970's, on schedule as predicted back
in the 1950's. We have been able to continue to grow in our energy
use only because we have been able to increase our oil imports.
The peak in global oil production will not allow us this luxury.
There is another
problem that occurs after the peak. Oil is initially easy to extract.
As the wells start to decline in productivity the remaining oil
is less pure and harder to get. It requires going deeper, using
more high-tech processing equipment, and investing more energy to
extract the remaining oil. Pre-peak oil is cheap oil. Post-peak
oil is expensive oil, even apart from the effect of dwindling supply
and increasing demand.
Think of squeezing
water from a sopping wet sponge. At first the water comes out easily.
After the first squeeze the sponge continues to hold water, but
the second and third squeezes take greater effort, and less comes
out. Something similar applies to oil. The point where it makes
no sense to keep drilling is when the energy required to get the
remaining oil exceeds the energy of the oil that would be extracted.
The increasing cost is not the issue. Even at thousands of dollars
per gallon, nothing is gained by pumping it out of the ground.
peak in oil production has another major consequence: a capitalistic
economy demands growth to remain stable, and growth is ultimately
limited by the availability of energy. Therefore the downturn in
energy availability will bring with it economic instability and
ultimately the collapse of our economy.
hydrogen fuel is not even a factor: it is a "carrier"
of energy, not a source. It requires as much energy to split water
into hydrogen and oxygen as will be recovered when hydrogen and
oxygen recombine in the burning process.
This is the
"Ghost of Christmas yet to come," except unlike the ending
in the Charles Dickens story, it is not clear that any actions on
our part will change the ultimate outcome. The earth's population
currently exceeds its ultimate carrying capacity, and the vast American
culture of consumption is destined to be seen as a bizarre aberration
in world history. The best we can hope for is a "soft landing"
as reality catches up with us. If we radically scale back our energy
consumption and find ways to stabilize our economy apart from constant
growth we might be able to maintain a humane way of life as we find
a new balance with nature. But if we try to become king of the energy
hill, to maintain our island of greed at the expense of the rest
of the world, we will not only fail to survive, long before we die
off we will forfeit our humanity.
My fear is
that the latter strategy is the real motivating force behind the
scenes in our current push for world domination, operating under
the cover of the "war on terrorism".
source for this article is the huge website, dieoff.org.
Don't read it if you are feeling suicidal! The information there
is solid, but the news is unremittingly bad. The challenge for us
as a nation and as individuals is to find ways to retain human values
as we live through the coming time of economic freefall.
See our website,