Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Peak oil hype and reality

Peak oil always seemed on of the fuzzier of the politicized economic-sustainability issues going forward.  Although in a very general sense the left was more interested in it than the right.  That has gotten even fuzzier lately because the fracking/tar sand/etc. debates have made some on the  green left realize that peak oil can be used as an argument for no holds barred fracking.

Peak oil theories 'increasingly groundless', says BP chief
Fiona Harvey, The Guardian 16 January 2013 (Hat tip: NC)
The US will be self-sufficient in energy by 2030, with only 1% coming from imports, the company's analysts predict
Warnings that the world is headed for "peak oil" – when oil supplies decline after reaching the highest rates of extraction – appear "increasingly groundless", BP's chief executive said on Wednesday.
Bob Dudley's remarks came as the company published a study predicting oil production will increase substantially, and that unconventional and high-carbon oil will make up all of the increase in global oil supply to the end of this decade, with the explosive growth of shale oil in the US behind much of the growth.
Why Shale Oil is Not the Game Changer We Have Been Led to Believe - Part 1
Chris Martinsen, Oil Price, 17 January 2013 (Hat tip: NC)
There has been a very strong and concerted public-relations effort to spin the recent shale energy plays of the U.S. as complete game-changers for the world energy outlook. These efforts do not square up well with the data and are creating a vast misperception about the current risks and future opportunities among the general populace and energy organizations alike. The world remains quite hopelessly addicted to petroleum, and the future will be shaped by scarcity – not abundance, as some have claimed.
To my mind it looks somewhat like the global warming issue.  The cautionary side has the better arguments overall, but tends to overstate the near future case.  So while they have by far the better long term arguments, their near-term hysteria gets in the way.  The business as usual crowd has almost no case except for pumping out insanely optimistic data.
At the point where you are talking about building a nuclear power plant in Canada to be able to produce the steam for the tar sands cheap enough to make the operation worthwhile you have to be able to sense at least some sort of higher plateau has been reached.


PioneerPreppy said...

Most of the experts I read and believe all claim the data is in no way reality. Who knows. The extraction costs seem to be the major factors and just like traditional pumping the returns dwindle. Many say the dwindle effects comes much sooner and much harder in fracking and the like so the numbers are not real yet.

We will see I guess.

russell1200 said...

On all sorts of levels the hype on U.S. Fracking and oil shale has shown itself to be overstated. The U.S. Government Geologists looked at the data for the 100 years, and after looking at the rocks, said it was more like 33. E-mail records show that the new techniques tap-out much more quickly than predicted.

It's not that there isn't fossil fuels, it's just that they continue to get more expensive to resource.

That is a pretty good definition for peak oil.

But many in the peak oil crowd constantly shoot themselves in the foot by thinking people will just sit around and do nothing about it when there is money to be made.

John D. Wheeler said...

The big problem is that peak oilers didn't make enough of a distinction between "running out" and "running short". Most people think peak oil means running out, but it means running short, which means tremendous profits for companies that produce oil, for now. Eventually all the profits will go to companies that produces oil drilling equipment.

Quite frankly, I think we could be an oil exporting country much sooner than 2030. Quite possibly as soon as next year. Obviously we are not going to ramp up production to meet "demand" that quickly. Rather, WHEN the dollar loses its status as the world reserve currency, the price of oil will skyrocket. How many places will you drive if gasoline is $100 a gallon?

PS Numbers and dates are purely illustrative and not predictions. My prediction is for timing is sometime in the next 30 days to 30 years. My prediction for the price is whatever is required to cut domestic consumption down to about the level of domestic production.

russell1200 said...

John: Your prediction is noted. I will note that even saying something like "running short" can be misleading. If your supply remains constant (even at a greater cost of extraction) but demand doubles, are you running short?

John D. Wheeler said...

Your point is very well taken. "Running short" is definitely not ideal, I just haven't come up with something better. The key is that the process works by "destroying demand" as the economists call it. The vernacular for it includes "closing the factories", "shipping jobs overseas", "layoffs", "malaise", "cutbacks", "austerity", "recession", "depression", "collapse".

russell1200 said...

John: Along those lines, Vaclav Smil notes that reaching a 30% drop in emmissions is easy even without some sort of political accord: you just need an economic collapse. And in the past he has been very bearish on Europe, and somewhat bearish on the U.S. and China.