Oil's Precarious Future

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Motorists, truckers and farmers protest as global oil stocks dwindle and Third World industrialization sends demand soaring. The need for further development of conservation measures and alternative energy is urgent.

Gwynne Dyer Vancouver Sun

A barrel of crude oil still costs less than a barrel of Coke or a barrel of Perrier water, as the website of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) helpfully points out.

For all the screams of anguish about the recent steep rise in price, oil is actually selling at the moment for around its average price over the past 30 years. But the next 30 years are going to be very different, because we will soon be running out of the stuff.

Three years ago, geologist Craig Bond Hatfield of the University of Toledo calculated that even if global oil consumption remained steady, worldwide oil production would go into absolute decline by 2036. But it isn't remaining steady; it's going up each year, so the deadline is a lot closer than that.

There has been some progress in the West in economizing on the use of oil, mainly because the "new economy" gets a lot of its growth in areas that don't use large amounts of energy. American economist Paul Krugman estimates that the U.S. burns only half as much oil per dollar of gross domestic product as it did in the early 1970s. But Western oil consumption hasn't actually fallen, and elsewhere it's soaring.

The surge of economic growth in industrializing Third World countries means that global oil consumption has risen from 59.7 million barrels a day in 1985 to 69 million b/d in 1995, and 75 million b/d this year. When you factor in this continuing growth in consumption, according to Hatfield, the date when total world production peaks moves up to 2011.

No doubt there is more oil still to be discovered, but the trendline is undeniable. Since 1985, each year's newly discovered oil reserves have amounted to only about 40 per cent of that year's global oil consumption. By now it's down to 25 per cent.

Even the conservative International Energy Agency agrees with Hatfield's figures, estimating that somewhere between 2009 and 2012 global oil production, after rising steadily for 140 years, will peak and start down again. By 2020, about one-fifth of the predicted consumption will have to come from "unidentified unconventional" sources (i.e. they have no idea where it's coming from). By 2040, according to other studies, total global oil production may be down to less than half what it is now.

What will this do to the global industrial economy that we have built largely on oil over the past century and a half? Well, if we don't have time to develop and put into place alternatives sources of energy to carry the load that is now borne by oil, it will simply crash in ruins.

Alternative energy sources can be developed. We even have a good idea what sorts of technologies would be involved, from solar power to fuel cells. But we will need a very long time to shift an entire world's industrial plant and transportation system over from oil.

So if we are not to have the Crash of all time in 10 or 15 years, two things must start happening soon: serious oil conservation measures, to give us more time for the transition, and a big push to get the alternative technologies out of the labs and on to the streets.

In a market-driven economy, that means the price of oil needs to go up, and stay up. No more wild fluctuations between $8 and $35 a barrel within an 18-month period; just a steady rise towards, say $40 a barrel by late next year, and then further gradual rises towards about $60 per barrel by 2005. Is this break with the traditional pattern possible?

Yes, because power is moving back towards OPEC, whose long-term interest is in sustainable higher prices.

What has driven the huge gyrations of oil prices over the past three decades has been the fact that whenever OPEC's deliberate strategy or incidents like the Iranian revolution or the Gulf War drove them up, the industrialized countries would invest more in their own (higher-cost) oilfields. Increased non-OPEC production, together with a recession caused by the high oil prices, would then cause a world glut of oil and bring prices back down.

But there are no more North Seas and Alaskan North Slopes waiting to be developed. The West can pull off this trick at most once more -- and maybe not at all.

OPEC's share of the world's remaining proven reserves has gone up from 67 per cent to 78 per cent in the past 10 years. Moreover, even within OPEC, power is shifting toward the big Middle Eastern oil producers with relatively small populations. At the moment, OPEC as a whole supplies 41 per cent of the world's oil. By 2010, its Middle Eastern members alone will account for half the world's production.

Unlike OPEC members like Venezuela, Nigeria and Indonesia, who need every dollar they can squeeze out right away, the cartel's Middle Eastern members (with the exception of Iran) are countries that can afford to restrict production in the short term in order to push prices up. It's wonderful when the world's long-term best interest coincides with your own self-interest, so they probably will.

And will these higher prices slow down the growth of the world's industrial economies? Of course they will -- but it's generally a good idea to slow down when you're driving straight towards the edge of a cliff.

Gwynne Dyer Canadian journalist on international affairs based in London

-- homo-extinctus (homo-extinctus@xox.xox), September 26, 2000


Piece is marked "OPINION". At the bottom of the page is a link to contact the author.

MAYBE,,,,, she doesn't take well to criticism because......... Sorry, but we can't find an e-mail address for the writer of that article.

http://www.vancouversun.com/cgi- bin/functions/mailcolumnist/mailcolumnist.pl

-- cpr (buytexas@swbell.net), September 26, 2000.

By-products of oil:

"It is important to note that the end product of many alternative energy sources such as nuclear, hydro-electric power, wind, solar, geothermal, and tides is electricity, which is not a replacement for oil and natural gas in their important roles as raw material for a host of products ranging from paints and plastics, to medicines, and inks. But probably the most vital of all uses is to make the chemicals which are the basis for modern agriculture.." Walter Youngquist, Consulting Geologist http://www.ecotopia.com/apollo 2/

"Most people have no idea of the tremendous number of common items produced from crude oil. Many people associate gasoline or diesel fuel with crude oil, but not the huge number of products that are used everyday. The items produced from crude oil are astounding and number in the thousands. Scientists have identified at least 500,000 different uses of oil." Examples:

Saccharine, artificial sweetener) roofing paper aspirin hair coloring heart valves crayons parachutes telephones bras transparent tape antiseptics purses deodorant panty hose air conditioners shower curtains shoes volleyballs electrician's tape floor wax lipstick sweaters running shoes bubble gum car bodies tires house paint hair dryers guitar strings pens ammonia eyeglasses contacts life jackets insect repellent fertilizers hair coloring movie film ice chests loudspeakers basketballs footballs combs/brushes linoleum fishing rods rubber boots water pipes vitamin capsules motorcycle helmets fishing lures petroleum jelly lip balm antihistamines golf balls dice insulation glycerin typewriter/computer ribbons trash bags rubber cement cold cream umbrellas ink of all types wax paper paint brushes hearing aids compact discs mops bandages artificial turf cameras glue shoe polish caulking tape recorders stereos plywood adhesives TV cabinets toilet seats car batteries candles refrigerator seals carpet cortisone vaporizers solvents nail polish denture adhesives balloons boats dresses shirts (non-cotton) perfumes toothpaste roller-skate wheels plastic forks tennis rackets hair curlers plastic cups electric blankets oil filters floor wax ping pong paddles cassette tapes dishwashing liquid water skis upholstery chewing gum thermos bottles plastic chairs transparencies plastic wrap rubber bands computers gasoline diesel fuel kerosene heating oil asphalt motor oil jet fuel marine diesel butane " Dr. Gary L. Stringer Northeast Louisiana University http:/ /etrc33.usl.edu/etrc/projects/osage/acts/made.html

Maguire Energy Institute lists products made from oil, at:

http://www.c ox.smu.edu/maguire/learning/LCCh1.html

The chemical industry relies on the petroleum industry for over 90% of the source material for the thousands of chemicals it produces: http://www.mine ralswa.asn.au/~cmepet/page8.html

-- homo-extinctus (homo-extinctus@xox.xox), September 26, 2000.

BTW, that may be her opinion but it's based on the work of experts like Walter Younquist, Colin Campbell, L. F. Ivanhoe, Jean Laherrhre, M. King Hubbert, etc.

Take it up with them.

-- homo-extinctus (homo-extinctus@xox.xox), September 26, 2000.

Further reading:


http://www.egroups .com/files/RunningOnEmpty/

Geodestinies: The Inevitable Control of Earth Resources over Nations and Individuals

The Coming Oil Crisis by Colin Campbell

-- homo-extinctus (homo-extinctus@xox.xox), September 26, 2000.

The Global Hubbert Peak
Forecast of Future Global Oil Output

Production Scenarios

This graph (often referred to as the "Hubbert Curve,") is based on an Ultimate Recovery of conventional oil of 1750 Gb (Giga = Billion barrels), and depicts alternative scenarios of production. The Swing Case assumes a price leap when the share of world production from a few Middle East countries reaches 30%. This is expected to curb demand, leading to a plateau of output until the Swing countries reach the midpoint of their depletion, when resource constraints force down output at the then depletion rate. [from The Twenty First Century, The World's Endowment of Conventional Oil and its Depletion, by Dr. Colin Campbell, 1996]

Conventional, NGL and Non-Conventional

This graph is based on an Ultimate Recovery of liquids (conventional oil plus natural gas liquids) of 2000 Gb and Non-Conventional oil of 750 Gb. [from Dr. Jean Laherrère, 2000]

-- homo-extinctus (homo-extinctus@xox.xox), September 26, 2000.

The links in the previous post don't work properly so here is the URL for the info posted above:

http://www.oilcrisis.com/ midpoint.htm

-- homo-extinctus (homo-extinctus@xox.xox), September 26, 2000.

It's just as well we are running out, we can't control the impact of the chemical age,,, just not smart enough.. sorry.

If we have enough flexible industrial capacity during the transition(danger zone) we may retain a semblance of what we have,, oil reservoirs don't just stop they "water out"

Enjoy your car ride and cheeseburgers.

-- Will (righthere@home.now), September 26, 2000.

Technofixers fix this:

People aren't orderly; they will become less orderly as they realize gasoline and hamburgers are going to be harder and harder to get. On the face of it, it appears we have got ourselves in a fine mess this time! May I suggest orderly is better, and we that don't put too much faith in undiscovered panaceas. Moderation in all things..

It may be that parts of the world will suffer anarchy as the shift to renewables becomes more needful, particularly as the poor nations are unable to supply sufficient energy minimums per capita. It is my feeling that we can make the shift with more facility as long as mobility of transport is maintained. In the USA, cross Continent freight can get back onto the rail mode, as President Lincoln had in mind in 1862. Likewise wherever efficient rail corridor exists; put it back to work.

The fact that standard railway mode is near worldwide, and that it is energy efficient and can use almost any energy source, suggests transition policies must include expansion and enhancement of rail corridor and interface with other modes.

There is a book discussing the railway in crisis and disaster that might be useful to concerned planners. "RAIL TRANSPORT AND THE WINNING OF WARS" by James A, Van Fleet, Association of American Railroads, 1959. The fallback to a bicycle only economy might be put off indefinitely if renewable power dedicated to strategic rail corridors was part of national/regional policy.

An interesting test case might be applying the renewable electricity to wires to wheels concept to the Palestinian tragedy in the Middle East. To allow Israel defensible borders, it might be workable to create a series of population nodes along a new electric railway corridor linking Cairo, Jerusalem, Medina and Mecca. Traffic volume to the holy sites would justify the railway from a strict business venture viewpoint. Ulterior motive, of course, will be to forestall nuclear war and put into being a microcosm of a renewables oriented economic society.

Gunnar Henrioulle, Associate, Tahoe Valley Lines,

-- Gunnar Henrioulle (gunnarh@cwo.com), April 05, 2002.

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