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Monday, May 31, 2004

The Day After Petroleum, aka Beyond Tomorrow

It appears that B.P. plc (Beyond Petroleum) puts their money where their new name is and has branched out into other energy technology areas besides crude. TruthOut has a Reuters news story on alternate and reuseable commercial energy trends. In my mind, I can see how and why the British have taken the lead; nothing like having U.K. consumers paying the equivalent of $6 / gallon to push for alternatives.

I have also seen a similar "excuse" for why The Netherlands leads the way on truly alternative energy sources (hi-tech windmills, etc.). Nothing like the possibility of breeched dikes caused by climate changes to put fear into the populace's minds.

Unfortunately, America has no built-in excuse to get on the band-wagon at the moment. I don't think Hollywood's The Day After counts as a sufficient excuse.

Bill Ford Jr, of the multinational Ford adopts a European posture, and essentially agrees here.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Thunder From Down Under

Whenever I see an intriguing report from ABC news on the internet, a good guess is that it emanates from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Case in point: Deputy PM confirms oil crisis. Lots of interesting discussion; my favorite interchange directed toward the Sydney-based journalist reporting the story:
(by commenter) Anthony Rizk: Just shut up will you.........for God sake.

The rest of the comments were evenly balanced. Someone mentioned to check out the Monbiot article titled Bottom of the Barrel for gaining a good understanding of our predicament. The other side was represented by a myth-buster referencing THE OIL RESERVE FALLACY web site; a site with much factual information, but completely irrelevant. Examples:
  • The magic number is 112 billion. That's how many barrels of oil experts say is oozing through Iraq's geology -- the second largest proven reserves of oil on the planet, just behind Saudi Arabias. -- New York Times -- Nov. 3, 2002
... So what? That is like 4 years worth of global oil consumption
  • The Middle East does not have two thirds of the world's oil -- it has 54 percent of identified reserves, or, if you look at ultimately recoverable reserves, 39 percent.
... Oooh scary, as if this is an order-of-magnitude effect
  • 1920 -- David White, chief geologist of USGS, estimates total oil remaining in the US at 6.7 billion barrels. "In making this estimate, which included both proved reserves and resources still remaining to be discovered, White conceded that it might well be in error by as much as 25 percent." (Pratt, p. 125).
... as if technical prognostications have never been wrong before this statement. Lots more irrelevant statements. I would really like to redline this entire web site to highlight irrelevant and speculative information.

In summary, some smart advice from CrazyHorse on a Googled discussion board: The market cannot create energy. ... The law of thermodynamics. Economists cannot overcome it.

O. I. L. ?

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now speculated on the Majority Report Radio show over Air America that the original name of Operation Iraqi Freedom was Operation Iraqi Liberation, but when someone spelled out the acronym ...

Also, I saw a commercial on the Sunday morning pundit shows created by B.P. which used to mean British Petroleum but now means Beyond Petroleum.

Interesting what we can learn and infer from a few simple acronyms.

Manufacturing Cost in Oil

I have seen some unsubstantiated assertions on blog discussions that the energy usage during automoblile manufacturing equals operational usage during the first 100,000 miles (on average). This number seems plausible but depresses many people as it prevents us from achieving a net high mpg -- say one that is beyond 20 MPG, if we include manufacturing influence.

Sanity checks on this assertion done a couple of different ways show that this amount would equate to 600,000 MJ of energy usage.

  • Method 1: assume power consumption of 135 horsepower for 100,000 miles traveling at 60 mph gives 607,000 MJ

  • Method 2: assume 20 MPG fuel consumption and 1 GJ/30 liter gasoline gives 630,000 MJ.

To put it into perspective, the amount of gasoline used at 20 MPG for 100,000 miles, 5000 gallons, would fill an average bedroom in terms of volume. That is how much a consumer would fill up over the course of 100,000 miles of driving. Or, assuming $1/gallon in fuel costs, this would add $5000 to the sticker price via energy used up in manufacturing the car.

If anything, I find the assertion too bold. The Institute for Lifecycle Energy Analysis has done this study and determine the actual numbers, which are less than 1/5 the assertion. So in actuality, the mileage cut-off is closer to 20,000 miles of driving when we match the sunk energy costs of manufacturing for a typical vehicle.
check the chart out:

Conversion factors obtained from the useful Standards Measures web site.

Added: Fixed GJ/liter conversion factor type

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Secret Agent (Dangerman)

I have to link to an early British TV reference regarding oil depletion from the wilderness.

Here is the transcribed dialog:
Agent 1: Do you realize, Mr. Drake, that within a few decades that all the known oil reserves in theworld will be completely exhausted. Every petrol engine in the world, every jet, every diesel will have come to a halt. Their tanks will have run dry. Mark my words, the country that controls the last productive oil fields will be able to dictate terms to all the others.

John Drake (Patrick McGoohan) : Which country will that be?

Agent 1: Well it won't be England, I can tell you that.

Audio and video available from the site.

Dinner Table Musings

Free-form station of the nation radio has a George Monbiot interview on the always opinionated Dave Mandl's show.

Listen here:

In the first 5 minutes, Monbiot talks about relationships between Oil price and employment & Oil price and the economy. The entire interview lasts 50 minutes and mainly talks about his latest book "Manifesto for a New World Order".

Friday, May 28, 2004

Fishing for Facts

Exploring the old memory banks, my earliest and strongest recollections of the 70's era energy shortage came through a peculiar avenue. My great passion at the time involved fishing, fishing, fishing, arranging my tacklebox, and reading about fishing. I had my favorite magazines, Fishing Facts and the regional Fins and Feathers. (None of the conventional outdoors mags like Field&Stream, Outdoor Life, and Sports Afield -- not enough fishing articles!) However, Fishing Facts also had a slight slant on top of its fishing coverage.

As it turns out, the publisher of Fishing Facts, George Pazik, liked (and perhaps felt compelled) to editorialize on the looming energy crisis. As a teenager, this did alter my perspective. I came this close to keeping the issues over the years, but the editorials did resurface in the following link on "Forgotten Fundamentals of the Energy Crisis" by Albert A. Bartlett, U of Colorado. This appears in a late 1970's white paper, but catch this footnote:
33. G. Pazik, in a special editorial feature, "Our Petroleum Predicament," in Fishing Facts ("The magazine for today's freshwater fisherman"), Northwoods Publishing Co., P.O. Box 609, Menomonee Falls, WI 53051. Nov. 1976. Reprints are available at $0.30 each from the publisher. This is an excellent summary of the present situation and of the way we got into our petroleum predicament.

As I recall, the editorials mainly talked about the long term impacts and revealing comments of oil usage by different forms of transportation (airplanes, cars, etc). Basically riveting stuff for a teenager. Mr. Pazik was definitely an entrepeneur in the field of scientific sports publsihing and an independent thinker.

The America Outdoors site has this note by a contributor who recently contacted Mr. Pazik. Thank you, FF.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Got Mammary Fluid?

What will happen when a gallon of gas costs on average more than a gallon of milk? This is supposed to be some kind of milestone, but when you consider the petro-chemicals that went into the livestock-feed and transporation cost that go into this gallon of milk ... well, do you notice a bit of an inflationary spiral trend here? See below, and then way below.

Grist has an article on the $.50 gas tax and the players and politicos involved. Apparently, poor WalMart is taking a beating on profits because of oil prices.

Two recent items on the uncalibrated (i.e. wrong) CAFE standards on rating automobile highway and city mileage. Here and here. Basically, the estimates have been too high because of recent driving patterns that include more stop-and-go traffic conditions.

What is most interesting about this story is the length of time that this issue has hovered around the periphery. An earlier warning was back in 1980.
The labeling program had a number of problems initially with the measurement of vehicle mileage. A Congressional Committee hearing noted, "As the public quickly discerned, the EPA mileage figures were not an accurate measure of on-road performance" (US House, 1980). According to Elder Bontekoe of EPA's Office of Mobile Sources, the tests were not run according to "real world" conditions and considerably overestimated the actual mileage automobiles could be expected to achieve. In response, in 1985 a formula was worked out to adjust the mileage for actual city and highway driving conditions. This new system has been found to be fairly reliable (Bontekoe, 1993).

Then they went and fixed it, but 24 years later we have come full circle. Not one to shy away from doing a back-of-the-envelope calculation, this miscalibration is responsible for a virtual loss of several billion barrels of oil. This is oil, that consumers think they were saving by looking at MPG stickers on the car lot, but disappeared under real-world conditions.

Grist also has a review of the petro-genetic-chemical-based agricultural treatise by Richard Manning called Against the Grain

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Questionable Talking Point

From the (assuming Business) Professor Donald Mackay, chairman of Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust.
The accompanying graph shows that the real price of oil, even after its latest increases, is less than half the level reached in 1979. And oil is much less important in the world economy, accounting for only just over 2 per cent of world GDP. According to the latest estimates, if the higher oil price is now maintained, it will knock only some 0.6 per cent off the rate of growth of US GDP.

Oil may be only 2%, but as Smalley points out, the dependences on oil get complicated -- fast. Perhaps akin to saying, I can get by with a limited amount of Vitamin C; after all it is less than 1% of my total food intake. An even better analogy is fresh water; this is obviously only a fraction of the GDP, but can you imagine a restriction on the supply, and the complications that would ensue?

Toe the Company Line

Amazing that someone was actually FIRED for completing an energy technology study which "pointed out obvious problems". Also known as the POOP outcome, managers just hate when this happens, thinking that the employee is responsible for the mess they got themselves into.

Typical rationale of the employer: "Instead of criticizing the current situation, Dr. Hirsch should have taken some initiative to solve these problems, like when he invented the Hirsch-Meeks Fusor in the 1960's"

This is a bit of old news but important given that Hirsch may be on a new crusade:

The presentation was given by Robert L. Hirsch who is the senior
energy program advisor for SAIC and who was a senior researcher at
Rand along with a long list of other accomplishments which I cannot
remember. I have three paper copies of his talk but I do not have
anything in electronic form to post here. However, I did take some
notes of sound bites that I thought might interest this group.

"Peaking will be catastrophic, beyond anything I have seen in my

Reports are out that Saudi Arabia has high water cuts in all of its

Russia has said that their reserves are the maximum possible that
they could come up with in their calculations.

"This whole situation (referring to the world energy situation) gives
me the creeps"

Fuel cells cannot work at this time because major inventions are
needed. People will not drive around in "hydrogen bombs". Note that
he was joking and knows that a hydrogen car blowing up would not be a
nuclear reaction. However, he completely dismissed the hydrogen
economy as being impossible in the foreseeable future.

"I think coal will be a major answer"

The Mexicans will want half of the LNG that comes into their import

During questions and answers, someone asked about methane hydrates.
His answer was that with methane hydrates, there is no cap rock so a
huge inverted saucer is needed and no one knows how to make one.

In referring to the whole energy situation, he said, "we are about to
drive the car over the cliff and say, `Oh my God, What have we done?'"

I cannot stress enough how shocking this presentation was. It was as
though he had been reading this group for the last 6 months (and
perhaps he has). He mentioned Campbell, Laherrere, and Simmons by
name. I will not say that I agree with everything that he said, but I
agreed with everything that mattered.

I asked him afterwards if reception to his message had changed and he
replied that he had only started working on this issue six moths ago.
I was also shock by the reception to his message. The audience was
full of DOE people, many of them senior, and they were buying most of
what he said. I even saw a lot of heads visibly nodding at key
points. In short, I have no doubt that the message is out in at least
Pittsburgh and the people are receptive.

Paraphrasing Triumph: the Rand Corporation is a good workplace ........ for me to poop on.

Kerry's Oil Plan


"To force lower gas prices and ease U.S. reliance on oil, Kerry said he would invest $10 billion -- $1 billion a year for 10 years -- in new incentives for the U.S. automobile industry to build more fuel-efficient vehicles.
He also would offer consumers a $4,000 tax credit toward the purchase of such a vehicle.
Kerry also wants to temporarily stop filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve -- which holds oil stocks in case of a serious supply disruption -- to put downward pressure on prices."


Good Idea: Someone at work told me recently that the insanely innovative sports gear known as the Camelbak came out of the military-industrial complex. It turns out that soldiers get thirsty in the desert, and having a backpack filled with water beats the old canteen on the belt hands-down1.

Taken Too Far: Apparently the big diesel vehicles running across the desert (your HumVees, Bradleys, Palladins, Strykers, etc) have their own version of the Camelbak. To get nourishment, the unrefined oil coming right out of the ground suffices as a fuel source2. Lots and lots of crude oil gets used up this way.

Another primary platform, the Army's half-mile-a-gallon M1A2 tanks are powered by inefficient 1960s-design gas turbines enabling to cruise at 3 miles per hour. But 60-to 80 percent of the time, that huge turbine is idling at one percent efficiency to run low power systems like air conditioning and electronics. "Most civilian vehicles would use a small auxiliary power unit to serve such tiny, steady loads efficiently. Tanks don't, because their fuel was assumed to cost about a buck a gallon," said Amory Lovins the report's author.

Check the Rocky Mountains Institute for the latest info.

1Although they freeze up solid in the winter unless you constantly suck on it.
2Same reason that vegetable oil can be used in a diesel

"Crude oil truly will become black gold"

TomDispatch features an article that brings up some overlooked recent events.

  1. Independent truckers have started to block traffic in L.A. to illustrate the effect that rising diesel fuel prices have on their livelihood

  2. Rising oil prices have brought chronic blackouts to cities throughout the southern hemisphere

  3. John Kerry has mentioned consolidating with Canadian and Mexican oil resources as a means of creating an oil independence alliance

They also do the math:
The rising value of an increasingly scarce resource is a form of monopoly rent, and a future permanent crude-oil regime of $50 per barrel (or higher) would transfer at least $1 trillion per decade from consumers to oil producers. In plain English, this would be the greatest robbery by a rentier elite in world history. Someday, Enron may seem like the equivalent of a liquor store hold-up by comparison.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

No Oil Left Behind

Bill McKibben recently wrote a book called Long Distance, recounting his experiences training and participating in marathon cross-country ski races. Anyone that has done any X-C skiing knows of the two speeds, pokey and blazing. The pokey skiiers shuffle along appearing to waste lots of energy, without a lot of progress. On the other hand, the fast skiiers basically skim over the snow like water-striding bugs. Strong skiiers sometimes look as if they go faster up-hills than on the flats. Still, to do this for 35 or more miles requires pacing and conservation of energy. The way he recounted his experiences, I guarantee McKibben understands energy and I would classify him a blazer.

McKibben is also a reknowned environmental issues writer. Check out his set of reviews of recent energy treatises in the New York Review of Books. It covers both the Peak Oil and Global Warming aspects of our current situation and does a good job summarizing the automobile outlook, capturing both the promise of hybrids (key here is the efficiency of city driving, tyically as high or higher than highway mileage) and some of the new diesel technology (I believe coming out of Germany). The following quote could have come from Long Distance:
Similarly, my hybrid car saves energy in part because of its brilliantly designed engine but also because it comes with a display that tells me constantly how much gas I'm using and this, as a consequence, has cured me of a heavy foot on the pedal.

For another author, even crazier on the X-C skiing and RAAM cycling scenes, check out anything by Stuart Stevens, a world-class endurance athlete. His recent journalistic foray into performance enhancing drugs (cached) is way over the edge; he basically experimented on himself. I recall my Peace Corps volunteer brother running into him in sub-Saharan Africa, as Stevens was traveloging the country for I think his book Malaria Dreams. The other even stranger angle on Stevens is his political side; he was a media consultant for both G.W.Bush and Dole (and currently the K Street cable TV show producer ?!?). Stevens was the consultant for the third televised debate with Gore -- the famous zone of privacy debate.
And for the third debate, the two sides spent a lot of time discussing rules of movement and space in ways that would have made an air-traffic controller proud, including arguments about privacy areas, zones of separation and what constituted interference. "The Bush people seemed constantly concerned that Gore was going to move," someone involved in the talks said later. "They seemed spooked by Gore's size." At one point, the two sides discussed a warning light that would fire if one candidate violated another's space. In the end, all that was scrapped for a large no-man's-land and a tiny zone of privacy around each man's chair. In retrospect, Bush might have wished for a fence. During the third debate, Gore ranged so widely over the stage--and at one point came so close to Bush--that after it was over, Barbara Bush quipped, "I thought he was going to hit George."

Closing the circle Why didn't the White House hire Stevens to coach Bush on how to complete a 17 mile mountain bike jaunt without falling down on the home stretch? For me, this will go down in political annals with the Jimmy Carter 10K run. Those darn media consultants -- never there when you need them.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Myth Mills

Philip Stott of EnviroSpin is the successor to John McCarthy of the the almost by-gone sci.environment UseNet groups. Each an emeritus professor with a focus on debunking environmentalists, they both contribute to the myth mills concept. Looking back, McCarthy had the oddest reputation; the co-inventor of the Lisp programming lanuage, he basically ranted and raved against greens via a technology (the fledgling Internet) he knew fairly well.

The myth mill (aka advocacy organizations) concept can be used to advance political and commercial interests. To lock onto the main idea of advocacy organizations as Dave Johnson of Seeing the Forest points out, do not focus on single issues, instead advance policies that can put people in power who can then wipe out other ideas with a pen-stroke.

Moderate/progressive money works to accomplish specific objectives rather than affect overall public attitudes and politics. The Right's organizations change minds and affect politics, and the result is votes for Republican politicians, who then accomplish the goals of the ideological movement. So all the money that is poured into environmental organizations, for example, is becoming more and more ineffective as the Right's politicians and judges wipe out all the environmental gains. I always use the example of a philanthropist spending $500,000 a year on programs for an old-growth redwood grove. Maybe hiring a biologist, or funding lawsuits to protect from logging... Ten years later a politician might order the area logged "to protect against fires" or one Federalist Society judge might decide that resources should be used for corporate profit -- and the $5 million is WASTED (and the trees are gone.) So the Right's understanding that funding advocacy organizations is an investment pays off.

Well, now Prof. Stott is going after Peak Oil (tremble). Using the "Never Cry Wolf: Why The Petroleum Age Is Far From Over" article in the current issue of Science, he tries to counter-doom the Luddites with his usual flair. Not surprisingly, the only facts he brings to the table are the proven oil reserves. Pretty weak. I suggest he align with the myth-makers who believe that some sort of underground machinery creates oil continuously. I am waiting with anticipation that he use the proof that oil reserves in the Gulf (near Eugene Island) actually increase over time; see Peak Oil Fraud for more ranting.

Well we can always look to Mars via Bush's aborted (?) space plan. The funniest comment I heard on this, was the idea that it would be much cheaper to tunnel underneath the earth until we reach the Middle East and get oil that way, than use space travel to retrieve oil from Mars.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

From the Belly of the Beast

From the Belly of the Beast blog, thoughts from Bubba, an oil industry business analyst.

Let me tell you people, the future is scary. There is no easy oil left. I just shake my head and wonder, not only about the future of my company, but the future of the world economy that's life blood is oil.
So get rid of that Hummer and buy yourself a Prius. And get off your butt!!!

Link to another article by Krauthammer. I have been bicycle commuting for my whole life (except for one year in New York) so I always think of those like Krauthammer that can't get off their butts.

And what's with the Bush bicycle accident. A face-plant maybe.

Alternate Energy Sources

Alternatives to Oil according to Richard Smalley
"Our Energy Challenge," Livability Summit, Phoenix, AZ; April 22, 2004 (PDF)
This happens to be pretty much the same talk I saw him give as a keynote elsewhere.


  • Conservation / Efficiency -- not enough

  • Hydroelectric -- not enough

  • Biomass -- not enough

  • Wind -- not enough

  • Wave & Tide -- not enough


  • Natural Gas -- sequestration?, cost?

  • Clean Coal -- sequestration?, cost?


  • Nuclear Fission -- radioactive waste?, terrorism?, cost?

  • Nuclear Fusion -- too difficult?, cost?

  • Geothermal HDR -- cost ? , enough?

  • Solar terrestrial -- cost ?

  • Solar power satellites -- cost ?

  • Lunar Solar Power -- cost ?

Since Smalley is a professor he gives the following as Reading Assignments
- Out of Gas, Daniel Goodstein
- The Prize, Daniel Yergin
- Hubbert's Peak, Kenneth Deffeyes
- Matt Simmons, web site: http:/www.simmons-intl.com
- M. I. Hoffert et. al., Science, 2002, 298, 981
- The Hydrogen Economy, Jeremy Rifkin
- Twenty Hydrogen Myths, Amory Lovins (http://www.rmi.org)
- DOE BES Workshop Report on Hydrogen (http://www.sc.doe.gov/bes/hydrogen.pdf)
- 2003 State of the Future, (http://www.stateofthefuture.org)

5/26/2004: CORRECTIONS-Fixed typo and link

Dwindling Resources and Common Ground

George Monbiot has an interesting take on how policy (corporate and governmental) must change in the face of dwindling environmental resources.

Partly as a result of the changes they have engineered, partly as a result of the depletion of natural resources, the corporations now appear to be more vulnerable to environmental protest than they are to industrial action. Having exhausted the most accessible reserves of oil, minerals, timber, fish and freshwater, they are now forced into ever wider conflicts with the local people whose land and water they must seize to maintain production. As a result, the theft of resources and the ensuing pollution have become major political issues almost everywhere.

Later, he stresses the potential common ground or bandwagon effect this will have on disparate groups of people, without the ideological baggage getting dragged along.

I was reminded of this article, when John Emerson at Seeing the Forest spoke of the resistance of people that "just don't want to hear certain kinds of ideas" because of ideology or whatever. My question remains: Is the issue of peak oil considered extreme, but contains no real ideological agenda?

  • It is liberal in the sense that it speaks to populist ideas

  • It is conservative in the sense that conservation and technology will play a big role in the solution

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Oil Almanac

A Tale of the Tape Table

reference: DOE and CIA Fact Book
World Proven Reserves 1,025,000,000,000 barrels
U.S. Proven Reserves 22,500,000,000 barrels
World Production & Consumption80,000,000 barrels/day
U.S. Consumption 20,000,000 barrels/day
U.S. Production 5,700,000 barrels/day

An Econ dude speaks

Via Peak Oil blog, a Ludwig von Mises Institute opinion piece.

The author needs to consider economics as well as statistics and science. He takes a condescending potshot at Goodstein:
However, this does not make up for his lack of economic understanding.

This criticism, after the author misexplains the application of normal distributions. He actually believes in the multiple peak theory of future supplies. Little does he realize that the amplitude of individual oil finds follow a decaying path as well. As these many, many subsequently smaller finds get convolved into the demand impulse, we will see a curve with the same distinctive decaying shape.

Furthermore, if someone, does not understand statistics, they will not understand the science. Ask Goodstein how many students1 he has flunked out of his statistical mechanics courses for not possessing the requisite math skills.

1They ended up transferring to Ferris State to get a degree in hotel management

Hersh reporting on oil next?

Apparently, Seymour Hersh will write on the oil industry as his next New Yorker expose.

I wonder what will happen when Hersh starts snooping around the oil industry backrooms. Maybe this:

Then he introduced them. "I said, 'This is Sy Hersh,' " Gelb recalls, and the spokesman "begins to tremble, physically tremble. Sy is reading a newspaper. [The spokesman] can't keep his eyes off him. He might as well have been Dracula."

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Road Warriors

MK at Peak Oil blog links to the Top 10 conspiracy list.

The AlterNet list mentions Mad Max as the Hollywood equivalent pessimistic endpoint. As a matter of fact, George Miller's Road Warrior has political connotations up the wazoo. (Besides being my favorite action yarn of all time)

The parable synopsis:

  1. The tanker loaded with sand -- Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink

  2. Gyro man -- Jumbo Jets anyone?

  3. The bus caravan -- Off to Woodstock

  4. Mel Gibson -- Practicing for End-Of-Days in the sequel to The Passion

Dentist office reading material

The National Geographic weighs in.
The strategic reserve is mentioned again. A month or two worth of oil for this country. Whoopee! How would you like that as unemployment compensation?

But if the wells live up to expectations, each will eventually gush tens of thousands of barrels a day. "That's like a well in Saudi Arabia," says Cheshier. "We hardly get those in the U.S. anymore."

Tens of thousands. Shiver me timbers.

The Usual Suspects

This mailing-list site has an interesting post on the players in the great peak oil debate. The list poster provides both pro and con names in a logical grouping.

However he does make the apples and oranges mistake of comparing oil pessimists to extinction ecologists. Two main points to consider:

  1. Oil will never go extinct. It will only get harder and harder to find and less and less cost-effective to extract. OTOH, species can go extinct. For example, consider passenger pigeons and contrast to oil fields. Passenger pigeons once darkened the sky much like a gusher soaked everyone black. Now the pigeons are gone, but that gusher will trickle out goo as long as someone tries to suck on it.

  2. Some species can be kept going in zoos; via careful breeding they may exist indefinitely (therefore BOO to the extinction doomsayers!). OTOH, no one can breed oil into progeny.

Maybe a bit pedantic, but the argument needs this kind of framing.

For a good laugh click on the next message in that thread. The OP had indicated that oil just requires elastic demand; the sharp commenter challenged the OP to try that with his bank account.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Oil Price Stategery

An editorial in WSJ 5/19/2004 posits an argument that higher oil prices have an upside. Curiously the body of the article only advances a single point -- that higher prices will act as a spur to exploring newer currently cost-prohibitive extraction techniques such as oil sands and deep water drilling.

Unfortunately Holman Jenkins makes no mention on profit margins or net energy gains of the alternative approaches. We always need to rmind ourselves that conventional sources of oil have the nickname of Black Gold for a good reason. Hit the mother lode and be set for life. We may need to nickname oil from sand or shale as Black Saffron (lots of volume to sift through to obtain a return) and oil from the deep sea as Black Truffels (hit and miss searching).

The rest of the article bemoans scare tactics from the doomsayers and the absolute resolve that we will muddle through. The alternative scenario and predictable WSJ money quote "we might as well pass out the cyanide capsules now".

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Retired oil execs mimic Herrnstein&Murray theory

References to Goodstein and Deffeyes in a CBS MarketWatch article.

I did some checking on Amazon reviews to the Deffeyes book. Interesting that some retired oil industry executives have nothing better to do than to bash the book (one John M. Ryan) -- gotta watch that pension.

The arguments against the Hubbert curve have similar origins; everyone who complains point to the asymmetric nature of the curve. In fact temporal causal phenomenom do not follow a true bell curve (causality prevents negative time, yet gaussian shapes have infinitely long tails in both directions). So the overall bell curve has more to do with the general shapes matching the laws of large numbers.

The critics have framed the argument as "asymmetrical inconsistencies". Eerily similar to the "flip flopping" framing argument in political circles. But what the critics always lose sight of: any downslope has repercussions.

Surely we can find something else on Amazon

Business section article from NYT.

Strange final comment regarding Saudi production :
Jean-François Seznec, an authority on Saudi Arabia and a professor at Columbia University. "They don't want to get to the point where consumers start thinking about switching to other fuel sources."

Mainly on Cheney, results plainly ungainly

From the ASPO web site, Aleklett writes a white paper on previous Cheney arguments when acting as CEO of Halliburton.

The 70 million barrels a day world-wide oil use quoted by Cheney may not have much meaning to most people. I tried to associate an arresting visual to go along with this. First picture stacking barrels of oil 400 deep, 400 wide, and 400 high.
Now try to imagine a large cube of the size of 2 and 1/2 football fields on a side. Equate this to a really deep pond or a shallow 1000 acre lake. Cheney basically says to stay even, we must find and drain the water (i.e oil) from this lake every day from now to eternity. This just to keep up with demand.

Ripple in the energy pond

David Goodstein dismissed the notion of ANWR drilling as a drop in the bucket ("It makes no dent at all. It isn’t even worth talking about.")

see archives

This jives with an article from last year concerning a North Sea find. George Monbiot writes that the "huge" North Sea discovery will supply the world with oil for five and a quarter days.

Brush with Quackery

I don't know why quacks hold such interest to the layman. To me, they seem easy to spot and then discount. Often they possess strong rhetorical skills, much like experienced TV infomercial pitchmen.

I once had a run-in with Prof. Martin Fleischmann (one-half of the infamous Cold Fusion duo). I was giving an invited presentation at a summer conference retreat. As I got into the Q&A session, Fleischmann with his distinctive Czech/British accent openly commented in the stupidest way possible. Even though most of the experiments and data I described in my presentation used present-day technology (circa 1987) he had the nerve to pronounce that most everything I reported on happened to be old news by the late 1920's. As I recall, this hit me hard until I found out more about his work at that time; even though he had expertise in electrochemistry, he wasn't well funded and had an out-of-date lab (according to other people at the conference I hazily recall).

Only a year or two later (circa 1989) did the loudmouth open his yap too wide and suffer ridicule on what some consider the Scientific Fiasco of the Century. Suffice to say, cold fusion will not meet any energy needs in our immediate future.

Robert L. Park also writes about quackery:
"Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud"
I have to read this book, because I got introduced to Dr. Park when he visited my old grad school lab. I consider that a real brush with greatness.

More on Goodstein

Newsweek Interview with David Goodstein.

The interviewer skillfully asks "You write that the crisis doesn’t happen when we run out of oil, it happens when we reach the peak, the halfway point. Explain that."
This salient point will remain the most confusing notion to the layman.
To most people, a half-way point equates to a mid-life crisis, as in "So, deal with it and get on with your life".
Unfortunately, this kind of mid-life crisis may lead to a precipitous fall and not a cozy retirement.

Another PhD chimes in

Two condensed matter physics heavy-weights have chimed in on peak oil issues.

I have followed both David Goodstein and Richard Smalley for quite some time now.

I picked up and still own Goodstein's "States of Matter" text when I was taking graduate courses on Quantum and Statistical Mechanics. It did not quite jar my ways of thinking that Richard Feynman's highly readable lecture notes did, but the book did help.

I know a little bit more about Richard Smalley. A former post-doc co-worker of mine graduated from Rice (where Smalley resides) and said he was arrogant (pre-Nobel prize days) and tough. This could have been comments born out of competition between Rice research groups, but after seeing Smalley in action giving a keynote speech on energy issues, I am in his camp. Questions from the audience which included government scientists did not phase him even slightly. We need tough leadership on these issues.

See Senate Hearings of Energy and Natural Resources Committe for Smalley in action last month.

See ref: D. Goodstein, "Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil" (W.W. Norton, 2004) for Goodstein's book.

Editorial comments on Amazon and elsewhere say Goodstein's book reads a bit too pedantically and does not set too high a bar in challenging the audience. I find this unfortunate since Goodstein teaches Real Geniuses how to think at Cal Tech. Imagine how Goodstein's late CalTech colleague Feynman would have reacted to an Energy shortage challenge?

I am certain he would not say "Surely you're joking?"

The Oil We Eat

The Feb. 2004 issue of Harper's Magazine had an interesting article by Richard Manning mainly on agribusiness and oil.

Online reprint

Some have criticized the book (written by Manning) the article came from for not offering up any real solutions to the problem. In his defense, I have not seen any real solutions either.


Paul Krugman has followed the energy policies from an economic perspective (California fiasco, Enron, etc) for awhile now.

The latest NY Times editorial shows him setting his sites on the underlying implications. Tenacity and reliance on simple math (who'd have thunk it?) have been Krugman's hallmarks, so don't expect this to disappear from his radar screen anytime soon.

It's Cretinism not Creationism

We all know that sarcasm does not work well on the dim-witted. But follow this transcript to see it sublimely executed by a pro.

Senator Inhofe. All right. Let's see. Dr. Mann, since you have characterized your colleagues there in several different ways as nonsense, illegitimate, and inexperienced, let me ask you if you would use the same characterization of another person that I quoted on the floor yesterday. I would like to call your attention to the recent op/ed in the Washington Post by Dr. James Schlesinger, who was Energy Secretary under President Carter. In it, he wrote, "There is an idea among the public that the science is settled. That remains far from the truth." He has also acknowledged the Medieval Warming Period and the Little Ice Age. Do you question the scientific integrity of Dr. Schlesinger?

Dr. Mann. I do not think I have questioned scientific integrity. I have questioned scientific expertise in the case of Drs. Willie Soon and David Legates with regard to issues of paleoclimate. As far as Schlesinger is concerned, I am not familiar with any peer-reviewed work that he has submitted to the scientific literature, so I would not be able to evaluate his comments in a similar way. If I could clarify one...

Senator Inhofe. Okay. Well, you can't because there isn't time. I am going to stay within my time frame and I want to get to questions so others will have plenty of opportunity to respond to questions I am sure.

WORD document U.S. Senate, 8/29/2003 Committee on Environment and Public Works

Saturday, May 15, 2004


Kurt Vonnegut suggests a cold turkey approach to ridding ourselves of oil addiction.

Links: Truth Out | Common Dreams

Many literary critics dismiss Vonegut as a naive philosopher who appeals mainly to young college age readers (... I did read his stuff during that time in my life) but he has experienced enough horrors in his life to deserve credibility.


This project will save thoughts on the pending
worldwide energy transition. We know three things
will happen in sequence.

1. Conventional oil reserves will peak.

2. Conventional oil reserves will decline.

3. Extraction and use of oil will become counter-productive.

The dates of these occurrences remain unknown.