End of Oil Gets Two Paragraphs

asteroid approaches earth

Hey Dinosaurs! Heads Up! (Image by andrewsrj/Flickr)

If the US Secretary of Homeland Security announced at a news conference that a large asteroid was bearing down on earth, bringing massive destruction to our world, would he get more than two paragraphs on the Reuters news service? That’s pretty much what happened last week.

Instead of the Homeland Security chief it was the energy chief for the European Union, Guenther Oettinger, who made the announcement. Not about an asteroid, of course, but about peak oil: “The amount of oil available globally, I think, has already peaked.” The imminent damage to the civilized world implicit in that statement is equivalent to the damage done to the dinosaurs by the last big asteroid, but he got exactly two brief paragraphs in Reuters. Continue reading

The Seven Greatest Myths About the Gulf Oil Spill

It’s a Spill. The word spill means that a portion of a finite amount of stuff in a container is inadvertently transferred to another surface. But in the Gulf, toxic oil from a deposit so large its volume cannot even be estimated is erupting into the water column a mile below the surface at a rate so large it has not yet been authoritatively estimated. If this is a spill, then the eruption of  Mt. St. Helens was a burp. Continue reading

Oil: Looking a Little Peaked

When our car’s odometer shows us two or three zeros in a row, we tend for a short time to think about its welfare over the long term, not just how much gas is left in the tank. How well have we been maintaining it, what is its life expectancy now, what are the probabilities of major problems? Then, usually, we go back to sticking the key in the ignition and filling the tank.

When changing the calendar shows us a zero in the year’s designation, something similar happens, or should. We tend to review, briefly, the longer-term trends in the country, in our health, in our prospects. Such a review in 2010 brings us face to face with the imminence of a catastrophic global event: peak oil. Continue reading

A Frack Job for Marcellus

It’s not quite the infinite-energy-from-tap-water-via-cold-fusion miracle that industrialists have been assuring us is just around the corner — the sudden scientific panacea that would painlessly and profitably avert our rush toward energy catastrophe. But hydraulic fracturing, invented by Halliburton and beloved of Exxon, is close. Continue reading

Drill, Baby, WAIT!

The company calls itself AltaRock, which translates roughly from the Nordish as “getting high on rocks.” With a $6 million grant from the U.S. Energy Department and $30 million in venture capital (translation: “lottery ticket”), the firm set out to show the world how to turn true geothermal energy — that is, the heat in deep rock — into a major source of alternative, renewable energy. On Friday, it showed the world how to abandon a project and make itself virtually invisible. Continue reading

Forget Everything, I Said

The mantra of the industrial age rises in intensity, all around us, louder and more insistent as it becomes less defensible: we have to change everything, is the way it goes, but we can’t change any single thing.
On health care: yes, it’s terrible, the system is broken. The industry (imagine: in this country, health care is an industry), as President Obama likes to remind us, is on board this time, and agrees we must reform the system. It’s just that they are against changing any single thing about the system. Reduce their profits? That would be un-American. Offer Medicare to the people they have rejected as too poor or sick to help? Socialism! Sure, they’re willing to stop refusing or cancelling coverage of people who are, or get, sick. But that’s a no-brainer when, in return, 45 million Americans, now without insurance, are going to be required by law to pay them premiums. Now that’s a reform even an insurance coimpany could like.
The journalism industry — yes, it’s an industry now, too, I’m afraid — is complicit in all this. To cite just one example: two of the country’s most successful and respected columnists, Gail Collins and David Brooks, discuss the health care reform battle as if it were a contest of ideas between Republicans and Democrats, or the House and the Senate, or the Administration and Congress.
Compromising on Health Care
It is no such thing. It’s a contest between the 70% of Americans who want access to decent health care at a reasonable cost — and the industries that are making their profits by either denying the care or bankrupting the patient. Of course the industries are winning, at least partly because the journalists who should be shining light on what the companies are doing are instead flapping their right wings against their left wings.
Similarly. the oil industry agrees that we are going to run short of oil, and soon. Their most optimistic scenarios put peak oil — the begining of the perpetual and irreversible decline of the world’s oil supply in the face of steadily increasing demand — at 20 years away. Most reputable observers believe it’s happening now. But Big Oil says yes! we have to change everything! They even allowed their wholly-owned President, George W. Bush, say it explicity: we are addicted to foreign oil.
Just don’t try to change any single thing. Higher gas-mileage requirements for cars? No way. Tax gasoline to reduce consumption and stimulate atlternative, renewable fuels? Are you kidding? Limit carbon emissions as a late and lame admission that we are changing the climate of the planet, to our own peril? No, no, no. Instead, British Petroleum will rebrand itself as “Beyond Petroleum,” and run TV ads about how we have to change everything.
What I argue, here and in Brace for Impact, is that survival requires that we flip this brain-dead mantra on its head, admit that we cannot change everything, and then change something.

The mantra of the industrial age rises in intensity, all around us, louder and more insistent as it becomes less defensible: we have to change everything, is the way it goes, but we can’t change any single thing. Continue reading

Hope Flickers

It’s the kind of national inititative, the kind of muscular, frontal assault on one of the most dangerous problems of our time, that could actually give reason for hope.

It’s a massive program announced this week to install in the coming year 100,000 gas-fired household electric power plants in homes (where they will also heat the water) across the country. Continue reading

What’s That Sucking Sound?

What’s That? A Sucking Sound?
Don’t take my word for it, or that of Brace for Impact: one of the foremost energy economists in the world says that “the world is heading for a catastrophic energy crunch that could cripple a global economic recovery because most of the major oil fields in the world have passed their peak production. [T]he public and many governments appeared to be oblivious to the fact that the oil on which modern civilisation depends is running out far faster than previously predicted and that global production is likely to peak in about 10 years – at least a decade earlier than most governments had estimated.”
That’s the bad news; there’s worse. But first the bona fides: Dr Fatih Birol is the chief economist at the  International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris, which assesses energy markets for the 30 countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). His views appeared in the British newspaper The Independent [Warning: Oil supplies are running out fast] on August 3.
His views made headlines in Europe, Asia, even Canada. But US newspapers did not mention them until the New York Times ran a mocking op-ed piece by big-oil apologist Michael Lynch [Peak Oil is a Waste of Energy] ridiculing Dr. Firol and all of the world’s scientists who have come to the conclusion that there is not enough oil to satisfy preneially increasing demand, forever. Lynch and his ilk cannot, of course, claim that oil will never run out; the standards of public discourse will have to deteriorate a little more before that becomes acceptable. They rely on arguing that it won’t for a while yet.
But like their brethren the climate-change deniers, the peak-oil deniers have to ignore the avalanche of evidence from saner scientists. Such as those who, for the IEA, have just completed the first detailed assessment of more than 800 oil fields in the world, covering three quarters of global reserves, and have  found that most of the biggest fields have already peaked and that the rate of decline in oil production is now running at nearly twice the pace as calculated just two years ago.
Demand, meanwhile, continues to accelerate, especially as China emerges from recession.  According to Dr. Birol, even if demand remained steady, the world would have to find the oil equivalent of four Saudi Arabias to maintain production, and six Saudi Arabias if it is to keep up with the expected increase in demand between now and 2030.
But if you are not inclined to have confidence in a guy with a foreign-sounding name — he might be a Muslim! — speaking from France, of all places, then let me offer you this conclusion reached by the United States Joint Forces Command in its stretegic report “Joint Operating Environment 2008 published last November:
“By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 MBD… The implications for future conflict are ominous..”
In other words the Department of Defense is telling its commanders, with respect to peak oil, to brace for impact.

Don’t take my word for it, or that of Brace for Impact: one of the foremost energy economists in the world says  “the world is heading for a catastrophic energy crunch that could cripple a global economic recovery because most of the major oil fields in the world have passed their peak production. Continue reading