Tuesday 24 July 2007

Dialogue about End of Oil, Coal and CO2 emissions

... sudden resurfacing from summer hiatus...

An imaginary conversation:

Person A: C2 output (pollution) and oil consumption go hand in hand, right?

Person B: Mostly. Coal is worse than oil in this regard. You could roughly simplify the situation like this:

[Coal + oil + natural gas use] + [rainforest cutting/biomass loss] = CO2 rise

Person A: Serious problems (besides the current war for oil in Iraq and possible war in Iran) will probably become evident after 5 years to many. This based on signals in the mass media like FT, WSJ, etc.

Person B: Possible. I'd give a range of 1-7 years, maybe more, before oil shortage starts to hurt OECD countries a lot.

If one says that current oil futures price is due to only oil shortage of below ground factors (i.e. geological depletion), then shortages are already starting to hurt via price increase and resulting creeping inflation.

However, before OECD countries are hit badly, poor countries will be priced out of the market (happening for the past year and a half). Also developing countries will hit energy shortages (starting to happen at the time of writing this, in Latin America, Asia and even Eurasia).

As always with future, exact timing or effects are impossible to predict. Things could go really bad late next year, if the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is dry and they can't raise their production, Venezuela production keeps falling and Russia does not recover.

Addition. Venezuela just informed last week (3.8.2007) that in 2008 there will be very little if any oil for export.

Person A: By the time oil product have become expensive and hard to get CO2 output will diminish. So, there is a good side to this all. No oil=less CO2.

Person B: Unlikely. We will use coal instead. Also, we may use the fastest ramping liquid fuel alternatives (i.e. food cereals to bio-fuels), which can be worse in CO2 emissions with current practices than petroleum oil (this depends on farming/logistic practices).

But why coal?
  • More abundant than oil (cheap)
  • We know how to produce energy out of it (easy, fast, scales)
  • Competitive to make Coal-to-Liquids (oil alternatives, although not in great scale)
  • China's building 500 new coal plants (no carbon sequestration)
Coals is much worse bigger CO2 emitter compared to petroleum oil (coal to electricity, no CCS).
Even if we capture CO2, Coal-to-Liquids will produce 4-8% more CO2 than burning the same amount of oil.

There is absolutely no hope of reducing CO2 emissions by burning out oil quickly, because economic growth requires energy and coal is the next available, easiest and most logical choice according to cornucopia economists.

Unless economy crashes (depression, not a mere recession). Then consumption will go down and so will energy consumption and thus, CO2 emissions.

As James Hansen of NASA/IPCC has said it (paraphrasing):
We can burn all remaining oil and still theoretically solve the climate crisis, but if we start burning the remaining coal, we have absolutely no hope left.
Person A: If the "oil use=>co2 emissions" link is true, why not focus on using a lot of oil now really fast? The faster it is gone, the faster CO2 emissions go down?

Person B: As outlined above, increasing oil consumption is not sane for the CO2 emission reasons, although not necessarily catastrophic by it itself.

However, there are other reasons for using it fast (if not indiscriminately) now:
  • It's available now, use it wisely now that you can afford it (build something sustainable)
  • The faster we run out, the more we go cold turkey and have to radically change our way of life
Person A: Point is, how about this on a bigger scale? Can this be turned into a
a climate survival strategy or even a consumption trend? Can we burn ourselves out of the problem by making ourselves short on energy and then having to cut down on consumption radically?

Person B: Some really advocate this. Even system modelers that build world energy/CO2 models say that less people will die if we burn all remaining oil quickly, than if we burn them slowly, find alternatives in the mean time and keep growing like lemmings.

But it's just a model. Nobody knows. Maybe we all just dance into la-la-la-land on a road made of rose petals while singing Hallelujah. You're guess is as good as mine.

... back to summer, they're too short to miss...

Tuesday 10 July 2007

The cat is out of the bag...

Financial Times reports that "World will face oil crunch in five years", basing this on the latest IEA Medium Term Market Report for Oil (July 2007). The even more conservative WSJ puts a slightly different spin on it: "IEA forecast underlines oil, gas supply worries".

However, even IEA's somewhat unexpected lack of faith is seen as too optimistic by some, esp. in regards to KSA ability to ramp up it's own production of oil.

So there you have it.

Demand will outstrip production c. 2010. That is 2,5 years away. Let the ramifications of that sink in for a while.

Shortages not later than 2012 according to IEA.

Beyond that. It's anybody's guess, but unless Iraq and others ramp up as hoped, after 2015 it'll be very, very hard to sustain production - not to mention actually meeting growing demand.

As to whatever all this means, it's up to you to decice. However, it is not - just another transition. Biofuels are expected to provide 1.75 million barrels / day in 2012, which is less than 2% of world total oil demand.

I repeat the old mantra: economize (esp. get out of debt), localize (esp. in regards to work, family and sustenance) and produce (esp. something of actual physical daily value).

Thursday 5 July 2007

What Energy Crisis?

"There is plenty of oil for everybody, no shortages exist."

"High oil price is not a problem."

"Having temporary tight oil supply is not a problem."

"We can always drill more!"

"There is plent of natural gas. That'll help us."

"There is plenty of electricity to go around. Let's go electric!"

"There is no energy crisis. Rising demand will be met by rising production."

"Go back to sleep. Everything is fine. No need to do anything."

Sunday 1 July 2007

Videos on Peak Oil

Yes, understanding Peak oil can be difficult. Statistics after statistics, decision trees to prune, probability functions to consider and depletion functions to model.

A plain old video hit piece does the job of hammering the message in so much more effectively, even if some corners are cut.

Energy Standard team has probably seen most of the available documentaries and video pamphlets about peak oil. The quality varies immensely, but there are some really useful ones out there.

Below is a collection of some peak oil videos worth watching. Some easier, some shorter, some longer. Take your pick.

Interview with M. King Hubbert, 1976, 2 mins.

Description: The father of Hubbert's Peak of oil production, M King Hubbert explaining to us what the peak is. His 70's estimate for peak of crude oil was 1995-2005, depending on how OPEC adjusts their production. Crude oil production did peak in May 2005 and we are now running on fumes (condensates).

End of the Oil Age, BBC, 2005, 40 mins.

Description: A roundtable interview presented by Paul Mason (BBC). Interesting comments from James Howard Kunstler, Paul Ormerod (economist) & Felipe Fernandez Armesto (historian).

Criticism: Economists in the interview fall into the "let's create more energy through technology" trap. One should be aware of the laws of physics and remember that energy cannot be created out of nothing. In addition, it is useful to consider that it took us c. 100 years to create our oil, coal and natural gas based energy & urban infrastructure. It cannot be replaced in ten or twenty years by anything. Hydrogen or not, one must abide to laws of physics.

End of the 1st Half of the Oil Age, Fuelling the Future Conference, 2006, 33 mins.

Comments: Colin J Campbell walks you through how oil is formed, what are the physical limits to production, why more investments can't solve production issues and what it means when the world hits peak oil production.

Criticism: Quality is a bit off, it may be difficult to understand all the implications at times, unless you follow closely and know some backround data. Regardless, half an hour well spent.

Interview with Matthew R Simmons, Bloomberg TV, 2007, 5 mins.

Matt Simmons of Bloomberg on Peak Oil

Comments: "We are at Peak Oil now". Where we could be now according to Simmons.

Robert Newman's History of Oil, 2006

Comments: Robert Newman's biting stand up comedy about Peak Oil, war in Iraq, house of Saud and so much more. It's a laugh, even if you don't buy into any of the Peak Oil arguments.

Criticism: Should be painfully obvious and not a criticism as such, but do not use this as an accurate reference on history.

Other documents available online:

Do note, that these people are respected authorities in their fields. I do not often call for authority, but consider the fact that these people have put their names and reputations on the line, to say something, which many still don't believe is true. Pluse they have the facts on their side. That tends to help.

If you want something to watch on the telly, then the following docs available on DVD:

The End of Suburbia, (trailer)

Crude Impact
, (trailer)

A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash, (trailer)

Crude - The Incredible Journey of Oil, (view online)