Peak Oil News: Inflaming the debate

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Inflaming the debate

Inflaming the debate

On a technical level, the new pessimism about oil draws heavily on the work of two retired petroleum geologists, Colin Campbell and Jean Laherrère, and the earlier work of Shell geologist M King Hubbert. But the theoretical basis of the pessimistic predictions is weak; and the empirical track record of their approach has been a failure. In order to present potential oil depletion as a coming catastrophe, the pessimists have both to dismiss alternative energy sources and to portray society as fragile and on the point of collapse.


At 9:55 PM, June 05, 2004, Blogger Weaseldog said...

Ok, ignoring for a moment the fact that Hubbert nailed the peak in the United States, against a sea of opposing predictions. PErhaps you'd like to actually explain what's wrong with the concept of finite resources having a finite extraction curve.

Alternative energy sources are easy to dismiss as most require the investment of oil and gas energy to produce.

Perhaps you'd like to name your favorites and provide some numbers on how many BTUs they could be ramped up to, and in what time frame?

At 11:39 PM, June 06, 2004, Blogger MrExcessive said...

I found this particularly amusing (half-way through the article) :
The second argument, that we can predict a peak by projecting from past production, is even more problematic. It relies on the idea that production is determined by the amount of oil available, rather than by broader economic or political considerations.

This misses the point I think. The Hubbert and Campbell work and the Deffeyes book use past total _discoveries_ as a basis for predicting future production. With a finite resource it seems sensible to do this - after all, where else will production come from if not sources of supply which have been discovered.

The overall assumption which Kaplinsky makes, that the world can produce oil for 30-40 years is evidently wrong. This is the Reserves/Production, or R/P, ratio fallacy.
(from the article) "
Looking at accepted figures for known reserves of oil, at first it is hard to see any basis for pessimism. At present rates of consumption there are 30 or 40 years' worth of oil known to be retrievable using present methods.

The reason that this is a fallacy is that the production-time-remaining figure is calculated by dividing reserves by current or projected consumption. Unfortunately this doesn't work with oil (it might with gas...) because oil wells do not behave like gas-tanks.

Put simply, the amount of work which must be done to lift a barrel of oil from a particular well will start off small, when the well is first installed. As the well ages more and more energy must be put into lifting a barrel's volume, separating the oil from the various extracting agents which have been added to maintain production volumes. In other words the oil gets more expensive to lift AND uses more energy to lift. Economics determines when it is too expensive to lift - but physics determines when the well changes from being an energy source into an energy sink (takes more energy to lift a barrel than will eventually be obtained from that barrel - so production couldn't sustain itself and produce a surplus without external input of energy)

There has been a well known large scale experiment to demonstrate that the R/P calculation leads to bad results: The US hit production peak in oil sometime between 1969 and 1971; Since then it has had to use imported oil in an increasing proportion; Nonetheless the reserves remaining in 1970 were approximately 60% of the estimated total volume present. Conclusion, the R/P ratio is not a valid way to calculate the production time remaining.

Re. Low Investment:
I agree that no new refineries have been built in US in 3 decades. This is because
a) they are very expensive to build and
b) the oil companies knew when peak would arrive 3 decades ago - once Hubbert was proved correct about the 1970 US production peak - and did not see any point in investing in capacity which would never be used.

At 11:14 PM, June 07, 2004, Blogger WHT said...

Beware of the Spiked gang and their agenda.

My comments


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