October 20, 2012
Fall has fell, as they say around here. The remains of the summer garden disappeared into the compost bin, although the early fall lettuce, spinach and onions on the side porch live on. The poplar tree in the front yard stands resplendent in yellow-orange, while the maple across the sidewalk has begun its own transition to flaming red. The cold, wet bluster of the past week, which will turn mostly warm and sunny in the week ahead, gave me a chance to catch up on some reading around my favorite blogs and news sites and reminded me that winter is not all that far away.
In my reading, this week, a couple of articles caught my eye and, in thinking them over, reminded me that, in spite of the cold blustering of last week’s political debate and the warm, sunny assurances that, if we just institute Mr.X’s economic and energy policies over President Y’s (or vice versa) all will be well, again, the reality is that a peak oil winter is coming – with all its attendant consequences – and neither candidate is offering anything to solve the problem or temper those consequences.
For those of you who are new to the blog or are still a little fuzzy about Peak Oil and its consequences, I’d highly recommend you read the articles.
The first one, written by Gail Tverberg, of the Oil Drum, for Business Insider, goes over the latest Energy Information Agency oil supply data and the attending graphs and explains where the global energy supply stands as of this latest report. http://www.businessinsider.com/the-new-eia-oil-supply-data-confirms-your-peak-oil-fears2012 4?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+TheMoneyGame+(The+Money+Game)
To understand why neither candidate is offering any realistic policies to address the problems, you’ll want to read the second article, byDan Bednarz and Allana Beavis, over at the Energy Bulletin. Although Dan writes about the health system, the problems, consequences and solutions he writes about here (which none of the politicians want to deal with) are applicable to all our complex systems, both in the US and globally. http://energybulletin.net/stories/2012-09-14/neoliberalism-degrowth-and-fate-health-systems
Once upon a time, the world was able to pretty much poke a pipe into the ground in oil producing areas and get a gusher of cheap, easy to access conventional crude oil from fields that would last thirty to fifty years before they peaked and began to decline. For every barrel of oil it took to produce such a well, the world got 100 barrels of oil back. That’s no longer true. The International Energy Agency said a couple of years ago, that overall production of that oil peaked worldwide in 2006 and has been declining since then. As the large oil fields around the world peak and decline, not only does it become harder and more expensive (and thus a lower return on the energy invested) to produce it, we are increasingly dependent on other more expensive and hard to produce sources of oil and gas to make up for the falling supplies of conventional oil to keep pace with world demand. And, the energy returned on investment for some of these is five or less. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_returned_on_energy_invested
The giant oil fields of the past are gone. We haven’t found a new one in decades. The deep water beds and shale beds we are drilling now may seem vast, but the oil and gas are in pockets that are mere puddles, comparatively, and that peak in around five years, so that we must continually drill new wells to basically keep running in place. The “oil” sands and “oil” shales produce not oil, but oil precursors that are not only expensive to retrieve, but must be “boiled” out of the sand and shale and then refined into a synthetic oil at great cost. We are literally ripping off the tops of mountains to obtain a coal that is not only more expensive to retrieve, but, for the most part, dirtier to burn – some of which we convert to liquids that can be used like oil. (Another expensive process.)
No, we are not “running out of oil”. What we are running out of is cheap, easy to access oil in a globalized economy that cannot maintain constant growth on expensive and hard to access energy sources.
When I was a teenager back in the mid fifties, you could buy gasoline at the cheaper stations in middle America for twenty-five cents a gallon. Now, you couldn’t buy an eyedropper full of gasoline for that price.
We’ve been told we’re in a temporary recession and that, if we just get the right energy/fiscal/economic policies in place, we can get the economy booming again. As with the global oil plateau we’re currently on, we may grow the economy somewhat before falling back into recession, but unless we find some magical new source of cheap, easy to access energy soon, the days of booming economies are gone.
As with our fall weather around here, we will have our cold and rainy days and our sunny, warm days. But,whether we like it or not, for most of us a cold, harsh winter is on the way. With our politicians kidding themselves and us, we’d better take this time to lay in the firewood and get ourselves ready for that winter.