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Tuesday, October 23, 2007


For those wishing to seek out non-replenishable energy news, The Oil Drum surpassed quality of content over PeakOil.com long ago. In particular, TOD remains the only practical place to hash out arguments and develop what I call blogorithms and other models to predict evolving energy usage (shoot me for pinching this term from a fundie anti-science web site). I can't say that TOD has become the cat's pajamas of energy discussion, but you typically know you have a good thing going when someone starts attacking your approach.

As a case in point consider this commentary, A Terrifying Prospect, courtesy of TOD.
These factors have led to criticism of the modelling methods of peak oil theorists. Cambridge Energy Research Associates, a US-based energy consultancy, is damning in its assessment, saying that peak oil theory is garbage. Highly-respected (???) energy economist Michael Lynch has described peak oil theorists as practising pseudo-science and claims that: "The quantitative models used by peak oil theorists would earn a university student in elementary statistics a failing grade".

Lynch also questions the quality of peak oil research, noting that nearly all of it has been published on the internet rather than in peer-reviewed journals.
I will call this quote of Lynch's a keeper, and use it as a yardstick for how far we have progressed. I know for certain that Lynch means PeakOil.com or TOD when he refers to the "quality" of internet-only research, recalling several on-line discussions I had with Mr. Lynch himself at PO. And with even more certitude, I assert that Lynch exhibits pure projection in accusing us of practicing pseudo-science. He, not us, lacks the peer review in his published work; I dare anyone to find an article of his that goes beyond rhetorical flourishes. Failing grade, my foot -- the role of pseudo-statistician really would fit much better on Lynch's foot.

The article goes on to say:
The dearth of peer-reviewed scientific work from the peak oil theorists is frustrating to the layperson trying to form an opinion on the subject - particularly when reputable organisations such as the US Department of Energy don't predict peak oil until after 2030. For some readers, this frustration will be compounded by Professor Heinberg's books, which, although packed with fascinating information, are astonishingly light on references.

His focus on generalist publications means that - surprisingly - his work has never appeared in peer-reviewed academic journals. Professor Heinberg explains the minimalist referencing in his books by saying that: "I didn't have rafts of graduate students to go out and look things up for me."
I don't find this argument convincing. For one, you need peers to do peer reviews and the reality speaks to the dearth of any peers ready to defend a contrarian or even supporting position in the scholarly world. For this narrow, arcane topic of oil depletion, everything points to a coalescing of knowledge and a universal truth within arm's reach, and we shouldn't have to sell ourselves short. Remember that the oil companies and their funded research have no desire to prove a limited supply of fossil fuels; so only independent researchers (amateurs and former oil industry types) and perhaps a few daring academics remain to pursue the math and statistics. In essence, and as a prerequisite, first you need to care, which by contrast the USGS doesn't seem to and who have sponsored some awful research.

And as for the lack of references, you really need some quality work to reference to. We all know the basic citations such as Hubbert and others, but some of the new techniques that TOD'ers employ really leapfrog the historical knowledge base. Just recently, you can find researchers sifting through Google Earth visuals to count oil rigs which I contend have no historical analogy. And one of my favorite references remains a mid-70's editorial from Fishing Facts magazine, which essentially encapsulated Hubbert's idea for the layman. Furthermore when it comes to developing a good blogorithm, I hope I don't sound too arrogant in saying that Isaac Newton didn't need a heck of a lot of references as he engaged in a paradigm shift in thought. Perhaps in a few years, as this stuff shakes out, yes we will build up a good citation index, but at this early stage, web-based research remains at the "apple falling off a tree" stage.

In keeping with this spirit Jerry McManus contributed an interesting bit of data to a TOD discussion started by Luis de Sousa. He dug this chart out of an old Hubbert article from some library stacks showing a histogram of USA discoveries plotted against cumulative drilled footage.

I like this curve because I think it substantiates the dispersive growth model of oil discovery that I posted a few months ago and to TOD.

The shape of the curve that Jerry found due to Hubbert has the characteristic of a cumulative dispersive swept region in which we remove the time dependent growth term, retaining the strictly linear mapping needed for the histogram.

For the solution, we get:
  dD/dh = c * (1-exp(-k/h)*(1+k/h))
where h denotes the cumulative depth.

I did a quickie overlay with a scaled dispersive profile, which shows the same general shape.

The k term has significance in terms of an effective URR as I described in the dispersive discovery model post. I eyeballed the scaling as k=0.7e9 and c=250, so I get 175 instead of the 172 that Hubbert got.

But, here comes the weird part, those same charts show up in that obscure Fishing Facts article dated 1976, where the magazine's editor decided to adapt the figures from a Senate committee hearing that Hubbert was invited to testify to.
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Fig. 5 Average discoveries of crude oil per loot lor each 100 million feet of exploratory drilling in the U.S. 48 states and adjacent continental shelves. Adapted by Howard L. Baumann of Fishing Facts Magazine from Hubbert 1971 report to U.S. Senate Committee. "U.S. Energy Resources, A Review As Of 1972." Part I, A Background Paper prepared at the request of Henry M. Jackson, Chairman: Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, United States Senate, June 1974.

Fig.6 Estimation of ultimate total crude oil production for the U.S. 48 states and adjacent continental shelves; by comparing actual discovery rates of crude oil per foot of exploratory drilling against the cumulative total footage of exploratory drilling. A comparison is also shown with the U.S. Geol. Survey (Zapp Hypothesis) estimate.
Like I said, this stuff is within arm's reach and has been, in fact, staring at us in the face for years.


Professor Blogger Jerry McManus said...

Thanks for the creds!


10:15 AM  

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