T Nation

Peak Oil


This is something I ran into a year or so ago and I’ve been reading a bit about it. Its an idea some of you are probably familiar with and others may not be.

Basically, the plot of an individual oil well’s output against time is a bell curve; first the oil comes out slowly, then it peaks, then it declines. Some guy went and did the math adding up all the contributions from each well and speculated future wells calculating the cumulative output of oil from the earth to be a big bell curve, mirroring the same graph of an individual well on a larger scale.

Many estimates put the peak at right around 2010. This means that oil production will be declining from about now until it is gone.

Additionally, less net energy is gained from the oil as more energy has to be used to get it; First, the oil was under pressure and it flowed out naturally and now energy has to be used to pump it out. Additionally, as land wells dry out, people move to offshore locations requiring the building of oil rigs in deep, deep water which naturally requires a lot of energy to build and maintain as well. This energy has to be subtracted from the amount of energy produced from the oil in the well.

Westernized, industrial life is dependent on oil in every way imaginable. From oil to heat ones home, to drive to work, to watch TV and jerk around on the internet, etc. Also, oil based pesticides and fertilizers are used to grow crops, which are harvested by gasoline driven machines, which in turn are processed in plants powered by electricity from power plants. Pretty much every good produced and a lot of services are dependent on oil in some way shape or form.

This translates to economies as these goods and services have some value and are traded for money. Peak oil states, that sooner or later, supply and demand will drive the cost of oil above value of goods that can be produced with it. Then shit will hit the fan. Many people have theorized that the current financial crisis is the first in a long line of calamities that will slowly decay life as we know it.

Now, this all seems perfectly rational to me, that oil is a finite resource and it is largely treated as an infinite one, and I’m as much to blame as anybody. I’m very concerned about this, considering the time frames I have read about will occur through my adult years.

Now, I would like to hear others opinions and thoughts, and I’m kind of looking for somebody to tell me it is bullshit, when every rational bone in my body is saying tough luck because I’m going to have to deal with it.

Is peak oil a real issue or a conspiracy theory?

If it turns out to be a real threat, would you be willing to change your lifestyle and attempt to use less energy? How far would you take it, such as driving a smaller car, riding a bike as a primary means of transportation, relocating to an area less susceptible to the fallout, move out to the middle of the woods, learn how to make a windmill out of lumber and an alternator, repair build small engines, etc.?

If you do feel it is a threat, how have you changed your habits and lifestyle?

If you do feel it is a threat, how have you prepared for the result?

Do you know if this represents tar sand and shale? I have heard that possibly the largest concentration of oil known to us lies in the tar sands around Alberta (Athabasca?). This type of deposit wan once not even counted because of the cost. At the time I last looked into it (years ago) oil had to be approx $26 or above to make it cost effective. Obviously, that has been the case for a while.

I believe the US has perhaps the largest deposits of shale oil. Colorado and surrounding area has a high concentration if I remember correctly. Again, hard to process and has negative environmental potential.

I remember reading a paper that tried to make a point that it was very smart that the US was purchasing the majority of their oil from other countries. As the rest of the world’s supplies began to wear down, the technology to process shale and tar sands would be much further along and we would be in a much more advantageous position.

I must emphasize that I have no special knowledge on this subject. Just remember the results of a previous curiosity. Interesting topic, however.

  1. the middle east is fast running out of oil. Hopefully they pump Iraq dry as soon as possible. this should simplify US foreign policy in the region.

  2. they can only predict current proven reserves. We find new reserves all the time. The stuff is seeping out of the ground in the gulf. If we ever get around to increased discovery and drilling, that might extend the supply by a bit.

  3. Doubt it includes shale and sand. Don’t know for sure, but these types of predictions usually only include oil that is economical to extract at current prices, with current technologies

  4. experts have been predicting shortages since we first discovered the stuff.

the middle east is not “fast running out of oil.” not to mention, west africa is basically floating on top of the stuff. once china’s growth levels out shortages won’t be a concern for a while.

I just watched the movie ‘Collapse’ by a guy named Mike Ruppert. He may be called a conspiracy theorist, I hesitate to call him that though, whose career as an LAPD LEO got ruined when he allegated that the CIA approached him about selling drugs in the 70s.

He turned into somewhat of a government watch dog, published a news letter awhile back, wrote a couple books, and got into peak oil a bit 2001. His life is in shambles now and appeared to me as a martyred individual and the movie was an interview of him. Likeable guy though, and similar to Alex Jones who is much more radical than this guy, but you can tell he gives a shit. He even breaks down and cries in the interview.

Anyway, in this movie he directly mentions the tar sands. He describes them as a thick, sticky sand in layers 200, 300, 400 feet under the soil. They have to be strip mined, then transported, then steamed to extract the oil. This is the net energy problem, as you mentioned.

He put estimated production at 3-3.5 million barrels a day from the Canadian fields, which is rather paltry and didn’t mention how long this could be sustained or if it was a peak value or not. I’m not sure the mining process has the same bell curve dynamic as a well either. So, they are not really a fix to the problem.

I too am not an expert on this and that was part of my reason for making the thread, to try and sort some of the bullshit from fact. Today was the first I heard of the tar sands and I’m going to look more into them.

I’m skeptical of all the numbers, and still don’t have my head wrapped around the scale of this whole thing in terms of price per barrel, barrels consumed per day, etc. but I’m going to start paying closer attention to this information.

As to foreign oil, he did say straight out that he believes the US doesn’t plan on leaving Iraq. He cited the construction of an embassy complex as big as Vatican city and construction of 3 of the largest foreign military bases as evidence in Iraq as evidence. I have not verified any of the information.

Leaving US reserves and resources as a cache seems like a smart move by the powers that be, but it seems to just be delaying the inevitable.

I’ve read that to have cushioned the transition from oil to alternative energies, we would have had to started in the 70’s when peak oil was first theorized, but Reagan’s dropping dropping of oil prices in the 80’s leading to increased use was the death blow to the whole movement. It also led to the downfall of the Soviet Union who relied on energy exports for much of its revenue.

The other interesting thing in the movie was a graph of world population vs oil consumption and starting in the early 1900s when oil started to be used, population jumped and has been increasing to this day. Before that it was pretty much a constant. It is disturbing to think about what will happen in terms of the loss of human life and perhaps other more violent tragedies if this stuff plays out.

[quote]thefederalist wrote:
the middle east is not “fast running out of oil.” not to mention, west africa is basically floating on top of the stuff. once china’s growth levels out shortages won’t be a concern for a while.
[/quote]

Not trying to be a dick, but how long is awhile? 10 yrs, 20 yrs, 50 yrs?

Are you referring to China’s population. When do you expect them to stabilize, if ever?

Peak oil predictions have been made for decades, and have been wrong for decades.

Of course, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, so sooner or later one of the predicted dates will be right. Thus far however the track record of prediction is awful.

It’s funny how many dead dinosaurs there are underground huh.

The Russians say it is not dead dinosaurs (or dead plants.)

What do they think it is Bill?

Old Indian burial grounds…

[quote]thefederalist wrote:
the middle east is not “fast running out of oil.” not to mention, west africa is basically floating on top of the stuff. once china’s growth levels out shortages won’t be a concern for a while.
[/quote]

Hard to say how much the middle east actually has. Not that they lie but their definitions of proven and probably would not allow state oil companies to float on a stock market.

[quote]elano wrote:
What do they think it is Bill?[/quote]

I am not Bill, but I think that the theory is somewhere along the lines of Methan and similar stuff is trapped inside the planet and more or less oozes out and is converted into crude oil by heat and temperature.

[quote]JEATON wrote:
Do you know if this represents tar sand and shale? I have heard that possibly the largest concentration of oil known to us lies in the tar sands around Alberta (Athabasca?). This type of deposit wan once not even counted because of the cost. At the time I last looked into it (years ago) oil had to be approx $26 or above to make it cost effective. Obviously, that has been the case for a while.

I believe the US has perhaps the largest deposits of shale oil. Colorado and surrounding area has a high concentration if I remember correctly. Again, hard to process and has negative environmental potential.
[/quote]

It doesn’t include shale oil. Problem is at the moment this stuff takes nearly as much energy to extract as we get from using it. There could be some as yet undiscovered biochem type process that make it more useful though.

[quote]lou21 wrote:

[quote]JEATON wrote:
Do you know if this represents tar sand and shale? I have heard that possibly the largest concentration of oil known to us lies in the tar sands around Alberta (Athabasca?). This type of deposit wan once not even counted because of the cost. At the time I last looked into it (years ago) oil had to be approx $26 or above to make it cost effective. Obviously, that has been the case for a while.

I believe the US has perhaps the largest deposits of shale oil. Colorado and surrounding area has a high concentration if I remember correctly. Again, hard to process and has negative environmental potential.
[/quote]

It doesn’t include shale oil. Problem is at the moment this stuff takes nearly as much energy to extract as we get from using it. There could be some as yet undiscovered biochem type process that make it more useful though.[/quote]

We could also liquify coal, turn Methane or wood into oil or just suck the CO2 out of the air and turn it into oil again.

The last one is a bit sci-fi though.

So lets worry about oil running out in a 300 years or so.

[quote]orion wrote:

[quote]elano wrote:
What do they think it is Bill?[/quote]

I am not Bill, but I think that the theory is somewhere along the lines of Methan and similar stuff is trapped inside the planet and more or less oozes out and is converted into crude oil by heat and temperature.
[/quote]

It’s actually a very interesting thing.

Two things are a little unfortunate for discussing it in depth now:

  1. I’m not an organized person and I read to learn for myself rather than to have a stack of things to use to prove to other people. So there are many times where I can no longer find something that I’ve read before, and can’t think of an easy way to find by search. This is one of those times.

  2. The archival properties of the forum could be better. It is not unusual for threads to disappear entirely into the ether. It is also possible that at a time of posting, the site was using a URL different from http://tnation.tmuscle.com and therefore I’m searching the wrong domain when using Google. So there are cases where I had a paper previously and discussed it, and I would hope I could just find the old post, but it’s not possible.

So due to those problems, I can’t document this.

But anyway it is very interesting. The key (to me, not to the Russians) paper was demonstration of chemical conversion of methane to oil under rather moderate pressure and heat, with minerals commonly found in the Earth’s crust as catalysts.

The resulting oil was essentially identical to petroleum in various “fingerprint” measures of ratios of various isomers and chain lengths.

In contrast, hypothesized conversion of dead plant material to petroleum has so far as I know always been similar to the cartoon of a scientist at a chalkboard with a dense series of equations both in the top third and bottom third of the board, with the middle reading “And then a miracle happens…”

At any rate, the things is, it’s demonstrated that metnane indeed can convert to petroleum under conditions similar to what is found in the Earth’s crust, and it is believed that there are great stores of methane still remaining from the Earth’s formation.

The Russians reportedly choose where to drill based on their abiotic theory, and as you know they have done quite well in their oil exploration efforts. That does not prove that they are right, but it seems to me they well could be.

Last I saw of the oil sands, they were liquefying it using steam and keeping it hot through the process of separation until refinement, which helped a great deal to make the extraction -> refinement processes more efficient.

Consol Energy definitely has the coal to liquids process perfected. They mothballed the process and technology once fuel prices dropped back down. They did make many millions off of the government grants to develop the technology though. Same with hydrogen cell technology.

It seems that a very promising energy source is going to be natural gas captured from the Marcellius shale now that they have the hydro-fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies worked out.

http://geology.com/articles/marcellus-shale.shtml

Good info on Marcellus shale. New horizontal drilling and “fracturing” methods seem too really be paying off. Of primary importance is the locations of the Marcellus shale in relationship to the demand markets for the gas. For example, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio have the largest concentrations, and the highest demand markets are the northeast. Simplifies logistics and makes it even more cost efficient.

Yeah, but burning it will release CARBON DIOXIDE, and we can’t have that… :frowning:

[quote]Bill Roberts wrote:
Yeah, but burning it will release CARBON DIOXIDE, and we can’t have that… :([/quote]

Yeah, better to freeze to death than be…warm?