Skip to comments.What if we don't run out of oil?
Posted on 11/15/2005 7:05:19 AM PST by Dan Evans
The debate over "Black Gold Stranglehold: The Myth of Scarcity and the Politics of Oil" has begun to take familiar lines. "Peak oil" adherents continue to insist that oil resources worldwide are depleting. This mantra is repeated almost like an article of faith.
Ever since M. King Hubbert drew his first "peak-production" curve, statements of this tenet are easy to find. Typically, the "Peak-Production" theory is articulated as so well established that further proof is not needed. "Peak production" statements abound in publication. Consider this example written by an energy consultant in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:
Petroleum reserves are limited. Petroleum is not a renewable resource and production cannot continue to increase indefinitely. A day of reckoning will come sometime in the future. The point at which production can no longer keep up with increasing demand will mean a radical and painful readjustment globally to everyday life.
To counter this argument, Craig Smith and I have argued that proven worldwide reserves of oil are currently estimated by the Energy Information Administration at 1.28 trillion barrels, the largest amount every recorded in human history, despite worldwide consumption of oil doubling since the 1970s. Oil prices are currently declining suggesting ample worldwide supplies are available oil prices are not increasing as would be expected if chronic oil shortages were imminent.
In response to an article we published here about Brazil's offshore oil discoveries, one bulletin-board poster commented: "Corsi is pushing his abiotic oil agenda. He keeps repeating the canard that oil comes from dinosaurs. NOBODY BELIEVES THAT!" This prompted a response with a correction and an objection: "I suppose you meant to say 'the canard that oil does NOT come from dinosaurs and ancient flora debris'? That's the reason why we call oil a fossil fuel." Even better yet was this: "Who says that oil came from 'dinosaurs and ancient forests'? What a moron."
Interestingly, many critics seem ready to give up the "Fossil-Fuel" theory of oil's origin, as long as they can continue to advance the "Peak-Production" theory. Regardless where the oil comes from, this particular type of critic argues, we are still running out. This line of analysis misses a key point of the abiotic, deep-Earth theory of oil's origin. If oil is naturally produced within the Earth's mantle, oil may well be a renewable resource.
Then, there were some abusive ad hominem attacks, as expected in this heavily charged political environment in which differences have become polarized. Some posters argue that as a "discredited" co-author of "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry," nothing I write is credible, regardless of how well documented or argued. Here are a couple of examples. "This guy was also co-author of a smear book against John Kerry by the Swift Boat liars ... highly credible!" Or, again: "This man is an architect of the Kerry swift boat smear, so I am unconvinced of his ability or desire to maintain a dispassionate and analytic stance with respect to this topic." Evidently, there are still many who do not accept that John Kerry lost the presidential election of 2004, as there remain many who refuse to accept that Al Gore lost in 2000.
In the final analysis, many on the political Left appear to have gravitated to embrace "Peak-Oil" theories because the argument that we are running out of oil fits in with their overall pattern of leftist political beliefs. Spend any time on the peak-oil bulletin boards and you will find many comments from posters who appear happy at the prospect we may be running out of oil.
Underlying their enthusiasm for "peak oil" is an anti-oil, anti-business attitude that feels our advanced capitalist society is "bad" or "wrong," wasteful of the Earth's valuable natural resources in the pursuit of a materialistic, lazy lifestyle. Posters of this disposition simply want to dismiss any other theory without serious consideration. Here's how one poster summed up that attitude, "Ugh, more abiotic oil crap ..." The ellipsis typically was not followed up by rational argument. Evidently, the poster felt the "Peak-Oil" thesis was just too obvious or well-established to be in need of defense.
Because of taxes, Europeans pay about double for gasoline that Americans do, yet they continue to buy it. I suggest it is even easier for Americans to pay that much. If the price of gas were to be about five bucks a gallon, expect all kinds of new sources to be developed that aren't being touched today. And on the other side of the coin, expect a lot of innovation in energy conservation.
Oil = Freedom
A higher price will unlock motor fuels from other sources. Petroleum fuels might become scarce but liquid fuel will continue to be made. Too many people have a stake in continuing to sell the stuff.
I really don't think it matters which way this plays out. Think about it - If we are NOT running out of oil, things continue as-is, hopefully with continued improvements for economy and pollution...
If we ARE running out of oil, we will figure a way out of it, I'm confident. The Germans ran low on gasoline near the end of WWII, ground up chunks of pine trees with mechanisms on their trucks, and used the TURPENTINE to run them. Pine trees are definitely renewable.
Fuel from crops (corn/soybeans, etc.) is not a big industry now, but you know how people are - they cram for tests, fail to put stop signs in until someone is killed, don't fill the tank until it's empty, etc. If we are forced to cope - we'll cope.
OBTW - who will "own" the world's best fuel production facilities when we start using CROPS, Hmmmm? It won't be those desert countries, buddy boy. :-)
This is becoming the more and more reasoned theory. I have seen evidence of this theory in print now for over a decade. There is factual evidence of oil wells thought to be dry "filling up" with attainable oil again.
The problem with this, of course, is that if true - and I suspect it is - this would drive the environazis absolutely nuts!
"Things have a way of working themselves out."
I'm not sure what you mean when you say "working themselves out." I remember when gas was 25 cents a gallon. And I'm not all that old, either.
It's funny how things "worked themselves out" in that instance.
I don't think the problem is going to solve itself. I'm thinking the cost of gas will be in excess of $5 a gallon at the end of the next ten years, possibly in excess of $10 a gallon if the Chinese and Russians build cars as fast as we have.
It doesn't matter if we run out of oil.
We can convert to alcohol in a few years. E85 is already in motion.
In the long run, biomass seems like the most promising alternative to oil. But we're a LONG way from producing fuel from biomass that would rival what we're getting from oil today. If we have to go that way, then better figure on riding your bicycle to work. You won't be able to afford the fuel to drive your car.
We make assumptions all the time because we have to. We assume the sun will continue to shine and that rain will fall. But how smart would it be for you to waste a lot of money developing expensive alternatives to oil if it turns out that they will not compete with oil extraction?
Oh, I see. You were going to spend MY money.
What has been the inflation rate in the last 45 years?
Run the numbers yourself - from 1960 to now, at a rate of only 5%, the price from $.25 should be $2.25 now. Hey! I bought it for $2.17 last night! Not a bad deal!
Bought a loaf of bread for $.45 lately? No? Well, at that SAME 5%, it should be about $.45 now.
So, Frohickey and Adam Smith are both right. Things DO often have a way of working out.
Word-for-word exactly what various "experts" were saying, oh, 30 years ago...
No oil for democrats 8)
I remember when gas was 25 cents a gallon. And at that time you could buy a loaf of bread or a pack of cigarettes for 25 cents. In constant dollars gas isn't that much more expensive. I also remember filling my tank up 1998 for 99 cents a gallon.
Well, I don't know how much Engineering YOU have, but I'm a Mechanical Engineer, and I just happen to know a little bit about engines. There are many on the horizon that could be pretty happy running on soybeans. All we have to have is a reason to develop them, which, like I said, we don't have right now.
Retrofit my Monte Carlo SS with one of those, and I'm good to go.
I was going through some ancient copies of Scientific American and came across an article about coal resources. The experts said that our coal reserves would be exhausted in 100 years. The article was written about 1860.
The demise of the oil based economy does not depend on the specific conclusions of the peak oil theorists. The demand for oil is skyrocketing world wide.
Some people may think that new oil is being made every day. Personally, I don't. Most of the oil fields in Texas are nearing exhaustion. For some reason, nature has decided not to replace the oil we removed from those fields.
But irrespective, unless the world is making several million barrels every day, and putting it where we can get it, then the supply of available oil is going down. You can poo-poo it, but the fact is that it's oil that makes our economy go. Without it, we'd starve. And everytime the price goes up, our economic welfare goes down.
In general, the price is going up, not down. Even in the 90's, when oil was at about $15 a barrel, it was pretty clear that it was going to have to go up. Oil companies were losing their shirts. It was not sustainable. Now, it's sustainable for a while, but only at much greater cost.
There is a lot of oil in the world, but we are using it at a break-neck pace, and with globalization, it's a mistake to assume that there are vast new areas of exploration that we have not already tapped.
This repeatedly comes up on threads and has been repeatedly shot down by people that actually know what they're talking about; people have got it in their heads that oil fields all over the world are rapidly re-filling; this is not the case. There's a tiny handful of fields that may be re-filling that are connected to other fields that haven't been tapped. On the other hand, there are THOUSANDS of oil fields that are basically played out and are not refilling.
And there are very, very, very few petroleum geologists that do not believe oil is a fossil fuel; there are people on FR under the mis-impression that most geologists now accept Gold's theories about the abiotic generation of petroleum, and most completely dismiss it.
Sure, soybeans can produce a fuel. But it would be a whole lot more expensive than gasoline, even at current prices.