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Monday, September 03, 2007

Limnology vs Fossil Fuel Geology

TOD Europe posted a rebuttal from peak oil denier Duncan Clarke. In it Clarke decries the futility of model oil depletion (essentially saying, without proof mind you) that the non-linearity prevents anyone from doing a complete analysis. TOD commenter Dave Cohen chimed in:
I never use Hubbert models.

There is a large and growing cottage industry, usually predicated upon some ill-conceived notion of "peak oil theory", that ultimately depends on a complicated view of the world that is nowhere to be found in that literature.
You have to understand that Cohen has his own perfectly acceptable ways to gauge the future outlook for fossil fuels, no doubt informed from his years of experience. But something does not jibe with this attitude, especially considering that Clarke makes a strong indictment on any kind of mathematical analysis, knowing full well that smart men and women have solved many more difficult problems than straight oil depletion estimates. Rhetorically stating my case, I thought engineering schools with the rare exception took control of teaching petroleum engineering and geology classes. I also thought these same schools would teach engineers how to use analytical techniques. So why hasn't somebody filtered down any of the fundamental theories of oil depletion to the undergraduate level? Just because you can't find something in the literature does not mean that some underlying truth does not exist. Someone evidently made a calculated choice to not universally teach oil depletion in schools.

Let me give you an example based on my experience. I went to engineering school (electrical) but did take courses outside of my major. One of the classes I took out of the geology department, Limnology, essentially covered the study of lakes in geological terms. Remember that geology belonged to the engineering school that I went to. But get this -- a big part of the course study involved understanding of the life-cycle of lakes, essentially the whole eutrophication thing. So why did they deem this important for geology professors to teach, in particular the detailed theory behind how all lakes will eventually go kaput, but the geology or petroleum engineering professors in the remaining classes likely do not ostensibly teach anything about oil depletion? This absurdity, that on the one hand preaches the certainty that every lake will eventually fill-up and cease to exist, yet largely ignore the same fate for fossil fuels. And to top it all off, the math and models behind oil depletion likely provides much more intuitive explication than anything you would come across in a lake die-off analysis.

In the same thread, Glenn Morton posted a link to a peak oil article he wrote in 2000. This article in turn links to a college class from the same geology department that I took the limnology class from years ago.

Well, here sits the current syllabus for Geology 3005:
GEO 3005 Earth Resources

meets Lib Ed req of Citizenship/Publ Ethics Theme; meets Lib Ed req of International Perspect Theme
Instructor: Alexander,Scott C
Description: Geo 3005 examines the global constraints of earth resources and the international and ethical implications their development in our rapidly changing world. Factors including natural distribution, utilization and exploitation of our planet's resources will be explored with a focus on energy resources. The concepts of renewable and non-renewable resources will be introduced with quantitative estimates of the size and life cycles of known resources. We will focus on the international nature of resource production and trade along with the political and economic implications of this international interdependence. Political and ethical questions arising from the growing internationalization of resource production and usage will be examined. Text: Fueling our Future: An Introduction to Sustainable Energy, 2007, R.L. Evans, Cambridge, 208p., ISBN 978-0521684484, $25. Additional readings from current magazines, newspapers, etc. will be handed out in class and/or posted on the website. Geo 3005 is designed for students without an extensive background in science or math. The course will involve numbers and simple arithmetic homework problem solving. Two 4 page written ethics papers, at the start and end of the semester, will examine ethical implications of resource development and monitor student views and knowledge. These papers will be critiqued but not graded. The papers, combined with a local field trip, count towards participation.
Class Time: 67% lecture, 33% discussion
Work Load: 20-30 pages of reading per week, 8 pages of writing per semester, 2 exam(s), 2 paper(s)
Grade: 25% mid-semester exam(s), 35% final exam(s), 15% class participation, 25% problem solving
I have no knowledge how detailed the course is, but the fact that the instructor actually teaches simple arithmetic reassures me somewhat. But the fact that they obviously gear the class to students outside the geology department makes me wonder still whether the typical oil industry hire knows the basics of oil depletion.

I still contend that if someone taught oil depletion, that characters like Duncan Clarke, Michael Lynch1, and Peter Huber (a M.E. PhD no less!) would cease to exist. They could no longer sustain their individual variants of rhetorical anti-peak/pro-cornucopian arguments. Real analysis deflates their arguments too quickly and would neutralize their preferred practice of standard talking-point flourishes.

And why do we leave the limnologists alone to teach what the science tells us?
NeverLNG wrote: Because limnologists aren't paid as much as oil geologists and they don't own the Congress and the Media. So they can actually be left alone to be scientists and not Pharisees. Look at the rest of science in the current administration. It is either ignored, demonized or twisted to be useful to a political purpose -- depending on the field of study and its applicability to a political purpose.

1What Glenn Morton said about Michael Lynch in the TOD thread:
I have debated Lynch, reviewed a paper of his before it was published in the O&G journal and went to the 2004 SPE talk to meet him. I wanted to look the guy in the eye to see if he really believed it.

As I sat in the audience of the Peak oil debate, Lynch put up the UK production and said that there was no problem. But I spoke up loud enough that those around me heard me. He had only shown the UK production up until 1999. He had failed to show 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003 figures which were readily available IN 2004!!!. The guy pulled a sleight of hand of Biblical proportions.

I have little, no correct that, NO respect for the man.


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