Peak Oil News: Are Peak Oil Advocates 'Cultists'?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Are Peak Oil Advocates 'Cultists'?

EV World Blogs

"Proponents of the imminent peak of global oil extraction -- led by Colin Campbell, Jean Laherrere, L.F. Ivanhoe, Richard Duncan, and Kenneth Deffeyes -- resort to deliberately alarmist arguments as they mix incontestable facts with caricatures of complex realities and as they ignore anything that does not fit their preconceived conclusions in order to issue their obituaries of modern civilization".

So begins the opening sentence of Vaclav Smil's equally polemic paper, Peak Oil: A Catastrophist Cult and Complex Realities castigating the "cultists" of peak oil, which I suspect he'd also consider EV World.

The thrust of his argument is that advocates of peak oil, the point at which global demand exceeds global supply, erroneously assume that mankind will not find a way to adapt; and as a result, the world will descend into a destructive spiral of economic and geopolitical crises that could result in a new dark age.

Well, I've read most of the books on peak oil, and attended the most recent ASPO conference in Denver and while many of the experts on peak oil do raise alarm bells because of the speed and trajectory of world oil consumption, which resembles the Titantic plowing full-speed ahead into a dark, ice-berg littered North Atlantic, few of them that I've read or interviewed assume -- with the possible exception of Richard Heinberg -- that we can't alter course. That is, in fact, the object of their concern and purpose behind their warnings. I consider them lookouts aboard a surging, Edwardian-era ocean liner long before the advent of radar, weather satellites and GPS.

I don't think anyone from Campbell to Simmons would argue with Smil's observation that, "even if the world's ultimately recoverable oil resources were known with perfection, the global oil production curve would not be determined without knowing future oil demand. We obviously have no such understanding because that demand will be shaped, as in the past, by unpredictable technical advances."

Matt Simmons recently told the ASPO conference in Denver that he doesn't see peak oil occurring IF the world curbs demand or if what he calls "conceptual reserves", in fact, actually become proven and economically extractable. Both are the great unknowns at the moment for both sides of the debate.

Simmons doesn't know how much oil is left and Smil doesn't know which technology will end our dependence on it.

"Steeply rising oil prices would not lead to unchecked bidding for the remaining oil," the University of Manitoba professor muses, "but would accelerate a shift to other energy sources."

That is, in fact, what is happening from renewable energy to hybrid cars, but it's the pace of change that is of concern here. Yes, gasoline or diesel-electric drives can double a car's fuel efficiency, but can they be built fast enough, in sufficient numbers to make a meaningful contribution in reducing petroleum consumption worldwide, especially since an SUV bought today will still be in service as much as twenty years from now?

Smil happily quotes USGS global oil reserve estimates of 3 trillion barrels of oil, ignoring EIA estimates that sees world petroleum demand increasing from the current 84 mbd to 120 mbd by 2025, while also forecasting that renewable energy will only provide less than five percent of the world's energy needs in the same time frame. The Hirsch report sees unconventional petroleum resources like GTL, biofuels, shale oil and tar sands making only modest contributions to the World's thirst for liquid fuels. Certainly hybrid cars, solar panels, wind farms and "inherently safe ways of nuclear fission" are likely to help some, but will they be enough to close the yawning liquid fuels gap?

Finally, assuming that the productionof liquid fuels can keep up with demand, what does that do to the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? The present rate of CO2 injection is alarming. What happens when there are 2 billion cars and trucks on the road by 2025?

Most if not all of them will have to be powered by something other than petroleum and that something is likely to be electricity generated from renewable and perhaps safer fission or hopefully fusion power.

Is mankind likely to adapt to a changing energy world? Certainly, but I doubt it will be painless or without disruption. My guess is that somewhere between the "sect" of free-market optimism espoused by Professor Smil and the "cult" of peak oil pessimism personified by Professor Heinberg, lies the future in motion.


At 9:45 AM, January 06, 2006, Anonymous roberta kelly said...

Here is what I have to say to Vaclav Smil at his email address:

Dear Sir,

I wondered how this idea would be spun about into a new web of confusion and now, I must say I'm seriously disappointed it has come from Canada.

I do believe Mr. Engdahl has some native intelligence and it seems he has also really and truly been born with the gene of altruism and is telling the truth.

At this date, 01/06/05, there is a "dead zone" along the Coast of Oregon from Astoria to Newport. Now, supposedly global warming is guilty of this but I think it's the human consumption of capitalism or call it democracy.

How do you propose we turn this imbalance around? Or, do you even recognize it as an imbalance?

I grew up in Alaska from 1956 to 1960 and I'm here to tell you things have changed with respect to the Polar Bears, Penguins and Inuit~Eskimo Tribes and their living environment.

I'm hoping you can publish a book that shows our population explosion in 2020, and how the natural reserves look. That is, should we in the US not complete our "full spectrum dominance" that Cheney speaks of in his 1999 talk at the London Petroleum Conference regarding what he openly discusses as "Peak Oil".

When you do an introspective laundry list of your self, find out if it's narcissism being mainlined into the vein of hungry ghost or is it simply denial.

How clever of the US, et al, global domination fellowship to find you or, is it a transplant? ~ with such an impressive name and so on. I can only hope that when you must be accountable for your choices you are satisfied with the end result.

Look up Einstein's quote about war and you'll find yourself included in the ". . joyfully marching in rank and file . . "

You should be ashamed of yourself! People who have our species destiny (Campbell, Deffeyes, et al) at heart and soul and you're thinking about how can we keep the technology pandemic growing.

At 5:50 PM, January 06, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even if we reduced consumption dramatically today, that would mean Peak Oil has passed, and we would just run along a trickling plateau then steeper downslope...

So...Peak Oil is going to happen certainly by the next few decades, and very likely by 2008.

At 4:45 PM, January 07, 2006, Blogger Blue Chip said...

I found about the Peak Oil theory during some personal research into higher gas prices after Hurricane Katrina. Since then, the more I read about Peak Oil, the more I believe that is not a theory at all, as some would like to suggest. It's real. I's coming. It's happening. I think Paul Roberts said it best in his book End of Oil that the entire fossil fuel infrastructure from exploration to production to transportation to transportation is an asset worth trillions and nobody (no Oil Company CEO, no government official, etc.) is willing to walk away from that a make significant changes to a new energy economy until they absolutely have to; or other words until they see the writing is on the wall, prices are rising, and we are past the peak.

Am I optimistic that at that point society will have enough time to switch to alternative sources without catastrophic consequences to the human population, environment, and global economy? Absolutely not. If that makes me a "peakist" or a "cultist" than so be it. Labels aren't going to matter to much when life as we know it gets thrown into a tail spin.

Yes, I know that oil companies are researching alternatives quietly and will probably have a lot of research and solutions to present when peak consequences occur, but they will not be far along to prevent a severe disruption. Yes, I know that there are untapped conventional resources in the world that are current classified as "Possible", "Probable" but are currently uneconomical to produce. But I'm really want to do some analysis as to what price these tar sands and oil shale can be mined, because I have a pretty strong feeling that the price will be to high for the average American consumer who already can't afford prices at the pump. I believe the production and selling price will be to high for the transportation industry to function properly or regular businesses to stay in business, including the airline industry and automobile manufacturing industry.



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