Peak Oil News: 09/01/2007 - 10/01/2007

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Confessions of an “ex” Peak Oil Believer

By F William Engdahl

The good news is that panic scenarios about the world running out of oil anytime soon are wrong. The bad news is that the price of oil is going to continue to rise. Peak Oil is not our problem. Politics is. Big Oil wants to sustain high oil prices. Dick Cheney and friends are all too willing to assist.

On a personal note, I’ve researched questions of petroleum, since the first oil shocks of the 1970’s. I was intrigued in 2003 with something called Peak Oil theory. It seemed to explain the otherwise inexplicable decision by Washington to risk all in a military move on Iraq.

Peak Oil advocates, led by former BP geologist Colin Campbell, and Texas banker Matt Simmons, argued that the world faced a new crisis, an end to cheap oil, or Absolute Peak Oil, perhaps by 2012, perhaps by 2007. Oil was supposedly on its last drops. They pointed to our soaring gasoline and oil prices, to the declines in output of North Sea and Alaska and other fields as proof they were right.

According to Campbell, the fact that no new North Sea-size fields had been discovered since the North Sea in the late 1960’s was proof. He reportedly managed to convince the International Energy Agency and the Swedish government. That, however, does not prove him correct.

Intellectual fossils?

The Peak Oil school rests its theory on conventional Western geology textbooks, most by American or British geologists, which claim oil is a ‘fossil fuel,’ a biological residue or detritus of either fossilized dinosaur remains or perhaps algae, hence a product in finite supply. Biological origin is central to Peak Oil theory, used to explain why oil is only found in certain parts of the world where it was geologically trapped millions of years ago. That would mean that, say, dead dinosaur remains became compressed and over tens of millions of years fossilized and trapped in underground reservoirs perhaps 4-6,000 feet below the surface of the earth. In rare cases, so goes the theory, huge amounts of biological matter should have been trapped in rock formations in the shallower ocean offshore as in the Gulf of Mexico or North Sea or Gulf of Guinea. Geology should be only about figuring out where these pockets in the layers of the earth , called reservoirs, lie within certain sedimentary basins.

An entirely alternative theory of oil formation has existed since the early 1950’s in Russia, almost unknown to the West. It claims conventional American biological origins theory is an unscientific absurdity that is un-provable. They point to the fact that western geologists have repeatedly predicted finite oil over the past century, only to then find more, lots more.

Not only has this alternative explanation of the origins of oil and gas existed in theory. The emergence of Russia and prior of the USSR as the world’s largest oil producer and natural gas producer has been based on the application of the theory in practice. This has geopolitical consequences of staggering magnitude.

Necessity: the mother of invention

In the 1950’s the Soviet Union faced ‘Iron Curtain’ isolation from the West. The Cold War was in high gear. Russia had little oil to fuel its economy. Finding sufficient oil indigenously was a national security priority of the highest order.

Scientists at the Institute of the Physics of the Earth of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Geological Sciences of the Ukraine Academy of Sciences began a fundamental inquiry in the late 1940’s: where does oil come from?

In 1956, Prof. Vladimir Porfir’yev announced their conclusions: ‘Crude oil and natural petroleum gas have no intrinsic connection with biological matter originating near the surface of the earth. They are primordial materials which have been erupted from great depths.’ The Soviet geologists had turned Western orthodox geology on its head. They called their theory of oil origin the ‘a-biotic’ theory—non-biological—to distinguish from the Western biological theory of origins.

If they were right, oil supply on earth would be limited only by the amount of hydrocarbon constituents present deep in the earth at the time of the earth’s formation. Availability of oil would depend only on technology to drill ultra-deep wells and explore into the earth’s inner regions. They also realized old fields could be revived to continue producing, so called self-replentishing fields. They argued that oil is formed deep in the earth, formed in conditions of very high temperature and very high pressure, like that required for diamonds to form. ‘Oil is a primordial material of deep origin which is transported at high pressure via ‘cold’ eruptive processes into the crust of the earth,’ Porfir’yev stated. His team dismissed the idea that oil is was biological residue of plant and animal fossil remains as a hoax designed to perpetuate the myth of limited supply.

Defying conventional geology

That radically different Russian and Ukrainian scientific approach to the discovery of oil allowed the USSR to develop huge gas and oil discoveries in regions previously judged unsuitable, according to Western geological exploration theories, for presence of oil. The new petroleum theory was used in the early 1990’s, well after the dissolution of the USSR, to drill for oil and gas in a region believed for more than forty-five years, to be geologically barren—the Dnieper-Donets Basin in the region between Russia and Ukraine.

Following their a-biotic or non-fossil theory of the deep origins of petroleum, the Russian and Ukrainian petroleum geophysicists and chemists began with a detailed analysis of the tectonic history and geological structure of the crystalline basement of the Dnieper-Donets Basin. After a tectonic and deep structural analysis of the area, they made geophysical and geochemical investigations.

A total of sixty one wells were drilled, of which thirty seven were commercially productive, an extremely impressive exploration success rate of almost sixty percent. The size of the field discovered compared with the North Slope of Alaska. By contrast, US wildcat drilling was considered successful with a ten percent success rate. Nine of ten wells are typically “dry holes.”

That Russian geophysics experience in finding oil and gas was tightly wrapped in the usual Soviet veil of state security during the Cold War era, and went largely unknown to Western geophysicists, who continued to teach fossil origins and, hence, the severe physical limits of petroleum. Slowly it began to dawn on some strategists in and around the Pentagon well after the 2003 Iraq war, that the Russian geophysicists might be on to something of profound strategic importance.

If Russia had the scientific know-how and Western geology not, Russia possessed a strategic trump card of staggering geopolitical import. It was not surprising that Washington would go about erecting a “wall of steel”—a network of military bases and ballistic anti-missile shields around Russia, to cut her pipeline and port links to western Europe, China and the rest of Eurasia. Halford Mackinder’s worst nightmare--a cooperative convergence of mutual interests of the major states of Eurasia, born of necessity and need for oil to fuel economic growth--was emerging. Ironically, it was the blatant US grab for the vast oil riches of Iraq and, potentially, of Iran, that catalyzed closer cooperation between traditional Eurasian foes, China and Russia , and a growing realization in western Europe that their options too were narrowing.

The Peak King

Peak Oil theory is based on a 1956 paper done by the late Marion King Hubbert, a Texas geologist working for Shell Oil. He argued that oil wells produced in a bell curve manner, and once their “peak” was hit, inevitable decline followed. He predicted the United States oil production would peak in 1970. A modest man, he named the production curve he invented, Hubbert’s Curve, and the peak as Hubbert’s Peak. When US oil output began to decline in around 1970 Hubbert gained a certain fame.

The only problem was, it peaked not because of resource depletion in the US fields. It “peaked” because Shell, Mobil, Texaco and the other partners of Saudi Aramco were flooding the US market with dirt cheap Middle East imports, tariff free, at prices so low California and many Texas domestic producers could not compete and were forced to shut their wells in.

Vietnam success

While the American oil multinationals were busy controlling the easily accessible large fields of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran and other areas of cheap, abundant oil during the 1960’s, the Russians were busy testing their alternative theory. They began drilling in a supposedly barren region of Siberia. There they developed eleven major oil fields and one Giant field based on their deep ‘a-biotic’ geological estimates. They drilled into crystalline basement rock and hit black gold of a scale comparable to the Alaska North Slope.

They then went to Vietnam in the 1980s and offered to finance drilling costs to show their new geological theory worked. The Russian company Petrosov drilled in Vietnam’s White Tiger oilfield offshore into basalt rock some 17,000 feet down and extracted 6,000 barrels a day of oil to feed the energy-starved Vietnam economy. In the USSR, a-biotic-trained Russian geologists perfected their knowledge and the USSR emerged as the world’s largest oil producer by the mid-1980’s. Few in the West understood why, or bothered to ask.

Dr. J. F. Kenney is one of the only few Western geophysicists who has taught and worked in Russia, studying under Vladilen Krayushkin, who developed the huge Dnieper-Donets Basin. Kenney told me in a recent interview that “alone to have produced the amount of oil to date that (Saudi Arabia’s) Ghawar field has produced would have required a cube of fossilized dinosaur detritus, assuming 100% conversion efficiency, measuring 19 miles deep, wide and high.” In short, an absurdity.

Western geologists do not bother to offer hard scientific proof of fossil origins. They merely assert as a holy truth. The Russians have produced volumes of scientific papers, most in Russian. The dominant Western journals have no interest in publishing such a revolutionary view. Careers, entire academic professions are at stake after all.

Closing the door

The 2003 arrest of Russian Mikhail Khodorkovsky, of Yukos Oil, took place just before he could sell a dominant stake in Yukos to ExxonMobil after a private meeting with Dick Cheney. Had Exxon got the stake they would have control of the world’s largest resource of geologists and engineers trained in the a-biotic techniques of deep drilling.

Since 2003 Russian scientific sharing of their knowledge has markedly lessened. Offers in the early 1990’s to share their knowledge with US and other oil geophysicists were met with cold rejection according to American geophysicists involved.

Why then the high-risk war to control Iraq? For a century US and allied Western oil giants have controlled world oil via control of Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or Nigeria. Today, as many giant fields are declining, the companies see the state-controlled oilfields of Iraq and Iran as the largest remaining base of cheap, easy oil. With the huge demand for oil from China and now India, it becomes a geopolitical imperative for the United States to take direct, military control of those Middle East reserves as fast as possible. Vice President Dick Cheney, came to the job from Halliburton Corp., the world’s largest oil geophysical services company. The only potential threat to that US control of oil just happens to lie inside Russia and with the now-state-controlled Russian energy giants. Hmmmm.

According to Kenney the Russian geophysicists used the theories of the brilliant German scientist Alfred Wegener fully 30 years before the Western geologists “discovered” Wegener in the 1960’s. In 1915 Wegener published the seminal text, The Origin of Continents and Oceans, which suggested an original unified landmass or “pangaea” more than 200 million years ago which separated into present Continents by what he called Continental Drift.

Up to the 1960’s supposed US scientists such as Dr Frank Press, White House science advisor referred to Wegener as “lunatic.” Geologists at the end of the 1960’s were forced to eat their words as Wegener offered the only interpretation that allowed them to discover the vast oil resources of the North Sea. Perhaps in some decades Western geologists will rethink their mythology of fossil origins and realize what the Russians have known since the 1950’s. In the meantime Moscow holds a massive energy trump card.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Peak Oil Crisis: Has the Media Become the Message?

Falls Church News-Press

By Tom Whipple

With every passing month, evidence peak world oil production has either passed or is getting very close becomes stronger. Last week, the world peak oil conference in Ireland, heard that the best available data now suggests there may only be about 250 billion barrels of oil left to find rather than the generally accepted figure of 700 billion barrels put forth by the USCGS in 2000. Keep in mind that 250 billion barrels is only about eight years worth at our current 31 billion barrel per year rate of consumptions and that, should these billions of barrels actually be found, they will be extremely difficult to find and exploit.

Optimists at the peak oil conference believe world oil production can keep growing for perhaps another 15 years, but those who are calculating the likely balance between depletion from existing oil fields, and production from new fields believe that declines will set in within three.

Add to this the phenomenon of falling exports from the major oil producer countries, and we have a situation where problems may be only months away. Last week the CEO of the U.S. Shell Oil Company told an audience in New Orleans the U.S. may be only one hurricane away from an energy crisis.

Unfortunately, public and congressional recognition of this situation remains virtually zero. Progress on energy legislation currently is stalled as the House and Senate attempt to reconcile un-reconcilable bills. From the perspective of appreciating the danger we face, there are probably not more than dozen members of the current Congress who understand the urgency of the situation.

Most in the Congress are advocating legislation they perceive as being good for their constituents or contributors, and scoring rhetorical points for the next election, rather than preparing America for a new age. Thus we have “energy legislation” that is all over the map –- more drilling, more corn-based ethanol, more gasoline from coal, higher fuel economy standards. Nearly all in the Congress aspire to “Energy Independence” which, as the oil industry constantly reminds us, is absolutely ridiculous for a country where oil and product imports are approaching 70 percent of consumption. In short there is a major and, perhaps one day, a devastating disconnect between congressional perceptions and reality.

What will it take close this gap and set the country on a meaningful course towards mitigating the consequences of transitioning out of the oil age of cheap and plentiful oil? The obvious answer is long lines at the gas pumps, accompanied by much higher prices and perhaps restrictions on purchases. A few months of shortages accompanied by unheard of levels of outrage from voters who have little appreciation what is happening to them will certainly get Congressional attention.

For a while we will be in the silly season, with proposals to drain the strategic petroleum reserve, lift all restrictions on drilling, and perhaps invade a hapless oil producer or two.

The key question is can anything happen before the gas lines form to mitigate the damage that is coming? Obviously the President could seize the initiative, lay out the problem in a major address and propose a package of legislation– mostly conservation -- that might actually do some good.

At the minute, the prospects for such an initiative do not seem good unless some unforeseeable development makes the situation so obviously perilous that the administration feels impelled to take action as the lesser of two evils.

The third possibility is that the message of imminent peak oil will somehow bubble off the Internet into more of the “mainstream media” who would begin to treat the energy situation with the immediacy and seriousness it deserves. If the information that is available — web sites, blogs and below-the-radar screen publications— were to become a staple of the major TV networks, cable companies, wire services and other perception-forming organizations, it would not be long before the public and their elected representatives began to get the message.

What prevents more news organizations from embracing the notion that peak oil is imminent? First is the uncertainty about when troubles will start. As long as some are saying peak world oil production will come 40 years from now and some are saying 40 weeks, few see it as being worth the trouble to dig into the merits of these opposing assertions.

Next come the apocalyptic implications of rapid oil depletion. Most readers and viewers simply don’t want to hear about such unpleasantness until they really have to. It seems likely they will get their wish.

As many have said before, the real danger in all this is that, unless the Congress starts taking steps to mitigate the consequences, declining world oil production will be much more serious than it needs to be. Currently the U.S. administration, beset by the proverbial sea of troubles, seems unlikely to take on responsibility for mitigating the consequences of peak oil during its last year. Short of a major calamity, it is unlikely that a new administration will be able to get policies together for many months.

Thus we are back to the media. Unless they come to the realization that the peak oil is for real, imminent, and that there is much be gained by moving as quickly and massively as possible then we are going to motor into the great energy crisis of the 21st century completely unprepared.

The analysts of peak oil have done their job. The “when” is becoming clearer and it is mighty close. It is now the job of the media to drive home the point, the dangers, and the need for action. The ball is clearly in the media’s court.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Best Energy Strategy: Small, Green And Local, Experts Say


Best Energy Strategy: Small, Green And Local, Experts Say

A new study says the best energy strategies to meet the world’s growing demand for electricity are green, small and local.

The wisest energy strategy for the United States, and indeed other countries facing similar challenges, is to move away from their reliance on large-scale centralized coal and nuclear plants, and instead, invest in renewable energy systems and small scale decentralized generation technologies.

According to Benjamin Sovacool from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, these alternative technologies are simultaneously feasible, affordable, environmentally friendly, reliable and secure.

The electricity sector as it currently operates is at the mercy of natural disasters, price fluctuations, terrorist attacks and blackouts. Coupled with other, more long-standing problems such as increasing levels of pollution, growing vulnerability and inefficiency of transmission and distribution networks, and rising electricity prices related to disruptions and interruptions in fuel supply, these challenges add to the need for an evaluation of alternative energy technologies.

Sovacool studies in detail the current technological composition of, and challenges faced by, the American electric utility industry. He then evaluates the broad portfolio of energy technologies available to American electricity policy makers, against five criteria: technical feasibility, cost, negative externalities (or impact on human health and the environment), reliability and security.

Sovacool’s detailed analysis shows that three other sets of technologies – energy efficiency practices (like more efficient appliances), renewable energy systems (such as generators that create electricity from sunlight, wind, and falling water), and small-scale distributed generation technologies (such as generators that produce decentralized and modular power close to its point of consumption) – appear to offer many advantages over large and centralized nuclear and fossil fueled generators.

Sovacool’s paper shows how these alternative approaches can offer policy makers solutions to curb electricity demand, minimize the risk of fuel interruptions and shortages, help improve the fragile transmission network, and reduce environmental harm. He concludes that “it is these miniature generators – not mammoth and capital-intensive nuclear and fossil fuel plants – that offer the best strategy for diversifying electrical generation in a competitive energy environment.”

Full analysis and recommendations are published in Springer’s journal Policy Sciences.

Reference: Sovacool BK (2007). Coal and nuclear technologies: creating a false dichotomy for American energy policy. Policy Sciences; 40:101-122 (DOI 10.1007/s11077-007-9038-7).

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by Springer.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Agriculture In A Post-Oil Economy

By Peter Goodchild

The decline in the world’s oil supply offers no sudden dramatic event that would appeal to the writer of "apocalyptic" science fiction: no mushroom clouds, no flying saucers, no giant meteorites. The future will be just like today, only tougher. Oil depletion is basically just a matter of overpopulation — too many people and not enough resources. The most serious consequence will be a lack of food. The problem of oil therefore leads, in an apparently mundane fashion, to the problem of farming.

To what extent could food be produced in a world without fossil fuels? In the year 2000, humanity consumed about 30 billion barrels of oil, but the supply is starting to run out; without oil and natural gas, there will be no fuel, no asphalt, no plastics, no chemical fertilizer. Most people in modern industrial civilization live on food that was bought from a local supermarket, but such food will not always be available. Agriculture in the future will be largely a "family affair": without motorized vehicles, food will have to be produced not far from where it was consumed. But what crops should be grown? How much land would be needed? Where could people be supported by such methods of agriculture?


The most practical diet would be largely vegetarian, for several reasons. In the first place, vegetable production requires far less land than animal production. Even the pasture land for a cow is about one hectare, and more land is needed to produce hay, grain, and other foods for that animal. One could supply the same amount of useable protein from vegetable sources on a fraction of a hectare, as Frances Moore Lappé pointed out in 1971 in Diet for a Small Planet [12]. Secondly, vegetable production is less complicated. The raising of animals is not easy, and one of the principles to work with is, "The more parts there are to a machine, the more things there are that can go wrong." The third problem is that of cost: animals get sick, animals need to be fed, animals need to be enclosed, and the bills add up quickly. Finally, vegetable food requires less labor than animal food to produce; less labor, in turn, means more time to spend on other things. A largely vegetarian diet is also the most healthful, but that is a separate issue.

With a largely vegetarian diet, one must beware of deficiencies in vitamins A and B12, iron, calcium, and fat, all of which can be found in animal food. Most of these deficiencies are covered by an occasional taste of meat; daily portions of beef and pork are really not necessary. Animal food should be used whenever it is available, but it is not a daily necessity.

Of vegetable foods, it is grains in particular that are essential to human diet. Thousands of years ago, our ancestors took various species of grass and converted them into the plants on which human life now depends. Wheat, rice, maize, barley, rye, oats, sorghum, millet — these are the grasses people eat every day, and it is these or other grasses that are fed (too often) to the pigs and cows that are killed as other food. A diet of green vegetables would be slow starvation; it is bread and rice that supply the thousands of kilocalories that keep us alive from day to day.

In general, the types of crops to grow would be those which are trouble-free, provide a large amount of carbohydrates per unit of land, provide protein, and supply adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals. Most grains meet several of these requirements. Winter (not summer) squashes are also high in kilocalories. Parsnips rate high in kilocalories, whereas carrots, turnips, rutabagas, and beets are slightly lower on the scale. Beans (as "dry beans") rate fairly well in terms of kilocalories, and they are the best vegetable source of protein, especially if they are eaten with maize or other grains with complementary amino acids.


The amount of land needed for farming with manual labor would depend on several factors: the type of soil, the climate, the kinds of crops to be grown. The highest-yielding varieties are not necessarily the most disease-resistant, or the most suitable for the climate or the soil, or the easiest to store. The weather also makes a big difference: too little rain can damage a crop, and too much rain can do the same. Unusually cold weather can damage some crops, and unusually hot weather can damage others. Without irrigation — relying solely on rain — the yield is less than if the crops were watered.

But here are some rough figures. Let us use the production of maize (corn) as the basis for our calculations, and for now let us pretend that someone is going to live entirely on maize. "Maize" or "corn" here does not mean the vegetable that is normally eaten as "corn on the cob," but the types that are mainly used to produce cornmeal; these are sometimes referred to as "grain corn" or "field corn." Maize is very high-yielding and can be grown easily with hand tools, but it is only practical in areas with long periods of warmth and sunshine; even in most parts of North America it is not easy to grow north of about latitude 45.

A hard-working adult burns about 5,000 kcal per day, or 1.8 million kcal per year. David Pimentel [14] mentions a study of slash-and-burn maize culture in Mexico that produced 1,944 kg of maize per hectare, or 6.9 million kcal. Under such conditions, then, a hectare of maize would support approximately 4 people.

Potatoes require about 50% less land than "grain-corn" maize, but they are troublesome in terms of insects and diseases. Wheat, on the other hand, requires approximately 50% more land than maize to produce the same amount of kilocalories. Beans require about 100% more land than maize. "Root crops" such as turnips, carrots, or beets have yields at least 10 times greater than maize, but they also have a much higher water content; their actual yield in kilocalories per hectare is slightly less than that of maize.

To determine whether a country can feed itself with manual labor, we need to look at the ratio of population to arable land. With manual labor, as noted, a hectare of maize-producing land can support only 4 people. Any country with a larger ratio than that would be undergoing famine. The problem might be relieved to some extent by international aid, but without fossil fuels for transportation such international aid would be negligible. And this ratio is for maize, a high-yield crop; we are also assuming that crops will not be wasted by feeding them to livestock in large amounts.

In the present year of 2007, the world as a whole has a population-to-arable ratio of slightly over 3:1. Conversely, less than a third of the world’s 200-odd countries actually pass that test, and many of those are countries that have relatively low population density only because they have been ravaged by war or other forms of political turmoil. The Arabian Peninsula, most of eastern Asia, and most of the Pacific islands are far too crowded. Even the UK scores badly at 11:1. If we meld UN figures [17] with those of Gordon and Suzuki [9] and assume that the world population in 2030 will be about 11 billion, then even fewer countries will be within that 4:1 ratio. There might be serious conflicts between the haves and the have-nots, and isolationism might be a common response.


Most of the world’s land is not suitable for agriculture. Either the soil is not fertile or the climate is too severe. In most areas, if the soil is really poor to begin with there is not much that can be done about it, at least with the resources available in a survival situation.

Soil science is a complicated subject. Roughly speaking, however, good soil contains both rock material and plant material (humus). The rock material includes 16 elements of importance: boron, calcium, carbon, chlorine, copper, hydrogen, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, and zinc. (Actually the C, H, and O are mainly from air or water.) The plant material (humus) acts in 3 ways: (1) mechanically — it holds air and water; (2) chemically — it contains a large amount of C, H, and O, and a little (frequently too little) of the other 13 elements; and (3) biologically — it contains useful organisms.

Of the 16 elements, the most critical are phosphorus (P), potassium (K), and especially nitrogen (N); calcium and magnesium are probably next in importance. These elements might be abundant in the virgin soil before any cultivation is done, but wherever crops are harvested a certain amount of the 3 critical elements is being removed. The usual solution is to add fertilizer, which can be artificial or can come from such sources as rock dust.

As Donald P. Hopkins [10] explained in 1948, (a) organic matter is not an ideal substitute for (b) fertilizer (i.e. the 16 elements), nor is (b) fertilizer an ideal substitute for (a) organic matter. A few centuries ago, animal manure was high in N-P-K etc., but that is rarely the case today unless the manure itself originates in feed that was artificially fertilized. Nevertheless, in a survival situation, organic matter may be the only available source of the essential elements.

Native people in many countries had a simple solution to the problem of maintaining fertility: abandonment. No fertilizer was used, except for the ashes from burned undergrowth and from burned crop residues. As a result, of course, the soil became exhausted after a few years, so the fields were abandoned and new ones were dug. Sometimes such a technique is called "slash-and-burn." On a large scale the technique would mean leaving behind a long string of what used to be called "worked-out farms." For a large population, such a method would be impractical, in fact catastrophic. On a very small scale, however, it might be all that is possible; in any case, the abandoned spot would, over many years, revert to reasonably fertile land, at least in terms of humus content, and there might be wild legumes to replace the nitrogen.

Actually, if abandoned land is taken up again at a later date, the practice of abandonment tends to overlap with that of fallowing, another practice to be found in many societies. With the traditional European method of fallowing, part the land is left to revert to grass and weeds for perhaps a year before being plowed again.

A common partial solution to the N-P-K problem has been to turn crop waste into compost and put it back onto the land. The problem with that technique, however, is that one cannot create a perpetual-motion machine: every time the compost is recycled, a certain amount of N-P-K is lost, mainly in the form of human or farm-animal excrement, but also as direct leaching and evaporation. One could recycle those wastes, but the recycling will always have a diminishing return. Of the 3 most important elements, nitrogen is by far the most subject to loss by leaching, but to some extent that can also happen with phosphorus and potassium.

In the original "organic gardening" movement pioneered by Sir Albert Howard in the early years of the 20th century, nothing but vegetable compost and animal manure was allowed. In modern organic gardening, on the other hand, a common technique is to replace lost elements by adding powdered rock, particularly rock phosphate and granite dust. For "non-organic" gardeners and farmers, the usual response to the problem of soil replenishment is to apply artificial fertilizer, N-P-K largely derived from those same types of rock used in organic gardening. (In fact, the use of rock powders in present-day organic gardening sounds suspiciously like a drift toward artificial fertilizers.) If the fragile international networks of civilization break down, however, then neither rock powders nor artificial fertilizer will be readily available. They are very much the products of civilization, requiring a market system that ties together an entire country, or an entire world.

Writing early in the 20th century, F.H. King [11] claimed that farmers in China, Japan, and Korea were managing to grow abundant crops on about 1/10 of the cultivable land per capita as Americans, and that they had done so for 4,000 years. What was their secret? The answer, in part, is that most of eastern Asia has an excellent climate, with rainfall most abundant when it is most needed. More importantly, agriculture was sustained by the practice of returning almost all waste to the soil — even human excrement from the cities was carried long distances to the farms. Various legumes, grown in the fields between the planting of food crops, fixed atmospheric nitrogen in the soil. Much of the annually depleted N-P-K, however, was replaced by taking vegetation from the hillsides and mountains, and by the use of silt, which was taken from the irrigation canals but which originated in the mountains. The Asian system, therefore, was not a closed system, because it took materials from outside the farms, and these materials came from areas of naturally high fertility.


One way of determining when oil-based agriculture will be abandoned is strictly economic: when it costs farmers more money to use machinery than to use hand tools, they will go back to hand tools. In the study of Mexican labor mentioned by Pimentel, "a total of 1,144 hours of labor was required to raise a hectare of corn." Pimentel then compares that labor with the mechanized corn production in the United States, telling us that "600 liters of oil equivalents [for fuel, fertilizer, and pesticides] are required to cultivate 1 ha of corn." The ratio of hours to liters therefore seems to be approximately 2:1.

Modern grain-corn production in the US, however, results in yields of about 6,000 kg/ha, about 3 times as great as in the Mexican example. If we include that factor of higher yield, the previous 2:1 ratio of hours/liters must really be regarded as 6:1.

To discover whether mechanization is cost-effective, we must insert a number for hourly wage. If the laborer is self-employed, however, the figure for hourly wage seems purely imaginary: If costs are rising, for example, can the laborers not simply pay themselves less? Only to a certain degree. The laborer’s wage is often as little as it takes to keep body and soul together, but anything less than that subsistence wage would make farming impossible.

The rise in the price of fuel, combined with the hourly wage, then, determines the cut-off point for mechanized labor. When farmers pay themselves a certain amount for 6 hours of work, but the price of fuel is equal to that amount, the 6:1 ratio has been reached, and it would be reasonable for the farmer to give up mechanization.

Two other factors must be included if we are to compare manual labor with mechanization. Capital costs are higher with mechanization: a tractor must be paid for, there are repairs to consider, and eventually the tractor must be replaced. For now, however, let us assume that the laborer is working with a minimum of equipment. Secondly, in spite of what was said above about subsistence wages, farming income is higher in some countries than in others, and the same can be said of fuel costs. Farmers in Mexico, with high fuel costs and low wages, might be inclined to abandon mechanization sooner than farmers in the United States.

Food, of course, can also be produced with the labor of horses or oxen, and in fact many hours of human labor can thereby by saved. Even if animals are fed only on forage, however, a good deal of land is needed for that purpose. It is also questionable whether large numbers of horses or oxen could be bred and distributed in the next few decades. There is also the question of "alternative energy," in the sense of solutions involving advanced technology, but such innovations would probably serve little purpose without fossil fuels to provided at least an infrastructure [7,8].

What will be the price of gasoline in a few years’ time? ("Current dollars" are used here; it is misleading to speak of "inflation-adjusted energy prices," since it is mainly energy shortages that cause inflation in the first place [3].) US gasoline prices increased over the quarter-century before 2003 only at the same rate as the median income [16], with the exception of some small deviations during periods of warfare. In recent years, however, prices have risen by 18% per year [6]. With such a growth trend, a gallon of US gasoline will cost $60 in 2025, and $140 in 2030, although number-juggling of that sort soon becomes highly speculative.

For the sake of a thought-experiment, however, we might take a closer look at those price projections. Let us recall the 6:1 ratio of hours-versus-liters at which it is no longer cost-effective to use mechanization. A cost of $140/gallon in 2030 would equal $36/liter. If 6 hours of labor should also happen to cost $36, a sensible farmer would decide to give up mechanization at that point. In countries poorer than the US, that cut-off point would actually arrive well before the year 2030.

The other way of estimating a cut-off date for oil-based agriculture, of course, is to look at predictions of the decline in global oil production. According to the latest annual report of BP Global [1], "proved reserves" are only 1.2 trillion barrels (excluding a little from Canadian tar sands), although that figure inches up slightly from one annual report to another. A trillion barrels of oil is not enough to stretch more than a few decades. A continuation of an 18% annual increase in the cost of gasoline may seem absurd, but that figure closely matches the likely bell curve for global oil production: a decline from 30 billion barrels (5 barrels per person) in the year 2000 to 11 billion barrels (1 barrel per person) in 2030 would be an average annual decrease of 22%. It is not only gasoline prices and estimated oil reserves that have an ominous chronological relationship: it is surely not merely coincidental that there has recently been a spate of legislation, in several countries, for ethanol and other biofuels, in spite of the economic and ecological absurdity of such forms of "alternative energy."


1. BP Global Statistical Review of World Energy. Annual.

2. Bradley, Fern Marshall, and Barbara W. Ellis, eds. Rodale’s All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. Emmaus, Pennyslvania: Rodale, 1992.

3. Chin, Larry. "Peak Oil and the Inflation Lie." Global Research, May 19, 2007.

4. CIA World Factbook.

5. Davis, Adelle. Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit. Rev. ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970.

6. Energy Information Administration, US Department of Energy. "Retail Motor Gasoline and On-Highway Diesel Fuel Prices, 1949-2006."

7. Goodchild, Peter. "Peak Oil and the Myth of Alternative Energy." Countercurrents. Sept. 6, 2006.

8. -----. "Peak Oil and the Problem of Infrastructure." Countercurrents. Sept. 29, 2006.

9. Gordon, Anita, and David Suzuki. It’s a Matter of Survival. Toronto: Stoddart, 1990.

10. Hopkins, Donald P. Chemicals, Humus, and the Soil. Brooklyn, NY: Chemical Publishing, 1948.

11. King, F.H. Farmers of Forty Centuries. Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Organic Gardening, n.d.

12. Lappé, Frances Moore. Diet for a Small Planet. New York: Ballantine, 1971.

13. Logsdon, Gene. Small-Scale Grain Raising. Emmaus, Pennyslvania: Rodale, 1977.

14. Pimentel, David, and Carl W. Hall, eds. Food and Energy Resources. Orlando, Florida: Academic P, 1984.

15. Thompson, Paul. "Which Countries Will Survive Best?"

16. United States Census Bureau. "Historical Income Tables — Families." US Government Printing Office, annual.

17. United Nations Population Fund. The State of the World Population. Annual. New York: United Nations.

Peter Goodchild is the author of Survival Skills of the North American Indians (Chicago Review P, 2nd ed., 1999). He can be reached at

Friday, September 21, 2007

Two barrels of oil are used for each one found. $100 oil anyone?

By Eric Reguly

For the peak-oil crowd, that merry band of doomsters who believe global oil production is about to go into irreversible decline and plunge us into a new Stone Age, the timing couldn't have been better. As the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas was holding its conference in Cork, Ireland, earlier this week, oil prices conveniently set record prices. By midweek, they had gone as high as $82 (U.S.) a barrel.

The conference speakers were no doubt thrilled. If oil prices had been falling, their message would have been laughed out of court. As it were, Ronald Oxburgh, the British lord and geologist who is the former head of Shell U.K., one of the world's biggest oil companies, looked like something of a prophet. He said oil prices could hit $150 as supplies fail to keep pace with soaring demand. Another speaker, CIBC World Markets chief economist Jeff Rubin, predicted prices of "around $100 a barrel by the end of next year." Talisman Energy chief executive officer Jim Buckee talked about rapidly declining production from once-prolific and seemingly stalwart oil fields.

For years, decades even, the peakists have been considered the lunatic fringe by the mainstream oil and gas industry, with its visions of endless gushers. The industry had a simple but compelling argument: If you don't believe us, listen to the economists.

The economists said - and still say - there is no shortage of oil; there is just a shortage of oil at low prices. If the price, say, doubles, the reserves will rise accordingly (though not necessarily on a 1-to-1 ratio). Higher prices means expensive reserves, like Alberta's oil sands, can be commercially produced. Higher prices finance fatter exploration budgets and better oil extraction technology, and lure more talented geologists into the business.

They were right. But maybe the time has come to stop putting so much faith in the economists. As Toronto's Pollitt & Co. said in an investment note this week: "Just because OPEC [the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries] raised output quotas doesn't mean oil wells will respond."

In one sense, the peak oil argument isn't even worth arguing about. Of course oil production will - eventually - decline, plummet perhaps, for the simple reason the planet has run short of the rotting dinosaur carcasses needed to make oil. The better argument is that it scarcely matters whether oil production peaks this year or next if a huge gap develops between demand (rising alarmingly) and production (barely rising or rising not at all). In either case, the price goes up, as it has been, leading to potential economic upheaval or worse.

To Mr. Buckee's point, some of the world's biggest oil fields are limping into the geriatric ward. Take the North Sea, the reserve that turned the United Kingdom into an oil superpower in the 1980s, much to Margaret Thatcher's delight. It was fun while it lasted. Production is falling off a cliff. The U.K.'s oil and gas output peaked in 1999 at 4.5 million barrels a day (a figure that combines oil and the equivalent output of natural gas). Today it's about three million barrels, a figure expected to decline by 10 to 15 per cent a year. The U.K. is now a net importer of oil and gas.

Mexico's Cantarell field, one of the world's most prolific oil producers, is sweating too. Last year's production, which averaged 1.78 million barrels a day, was 13 per cent lower than the previous year's. A similar decline is expected this year. Meanwhile, demand is climbing relentlessly. China was self sufficient in oil until the mid-1990s or so. Now it's the world's second-biggest oil importer. Its consumption has climbed about 50 per cent since 2000 alone. China can't take all the blame. Note that some of the world's biggest oil producers are holding back oil to feed their own growing economies. Saudi Arabia's consumption was up about 30 per cent between 2000 and 2005; Iran's was up 21 per cent.

Since the 1960s, two barrels of oil have been consumed for every barrel found. Meanwhile, alternative energy is going pretty much nowhere. At a conference in Scotland earlier this month, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell predicted that wind and solar power would supply only about 1 per cent of global energy demand by 2030. If they're right, fossil fuels will remain by far the dominant energy source. But at what price? Forget peak oil. With such a yawning gap developing between consumption and production, higher and higher prices (barring a global economic collapse) seem certain. The predictions for oil at $100-plus a barrel are now no more far-fetched than oil at $50.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Oil shock to cause massive social dislocation

Herald Sun

By Paul Syvret

QUEENSLAND is heading for an oil shock. And it is not a matter of if, but when.

As crude oil prices hit a record high yesterday, an as-yet unreleased Queensland Government report warns of massive social dislocation, rising food prices and infrastructure headaches because of rising oil costs.

The report on the looming 'peak oil' crisis concludes that we will have to re-think the way we live and travel in the next few years as relatively cheap liquid fuels become a thing of the past.

'Peak oil' refers to when global output fails to meet demand, a situation the report estimates will occur in the next few years, although some economists believe we are now on the cusp.

The report, Queensland's Vulnerability to Rising Oil Prices, comes as crude oil prices pushed through $US80 a barrel for the first time in trading on Thursday night – triple the price of five years ago.

The effect already is being felt at the bowser, with petrol in Brisbane yesterday selling for as much as 129.9¢ a litre.

The report was prepared by a taskforce of scientists and industry experts, including Queensland's chief geologist John Draper and the Department of Primary Industry's chief scientist Joe Baker, and chaired by the newly appointed Minister for Sustainability Andrew McNamara.

Of the three scenarios mapped out for world oil prices by the report, Mr McNamara said we were already in the worst case "high oil price" scenario.

The end of oil: Why some people think production will peak

A small - but growing - group of experts think world oil production will peak in the next few years, to devastating effect.

By Steve Hargreaves

At some point in the near future, worldwide oil production will peak, then decline rapidly, causing depression-like conditions or even the starvation of billions across the globe.

That's the worst-case scenario for subscribers to the "peak oil" theory, who generally believe oil production has either topped out or will do so in the next couple of years.

A small but growing group of experts think oil production will peak in the next few years, then decline rapidly. The result could be worse than the Great Depression.

What follows depends on who one talks to, but predictions run the gamut from the disaster scenario described above to merely oil prices in the $200-a-barrel range while society transitions to other energy sources.

It's not a view held by most industry experts, including the oil companies, the government and most analysts at the financial houses.

Why oil won't hit $100

But its adherents are growing, and include some fairly well-known names.

In the coming week, a former chairman of oil giant Royal Dutch Shell (Charts) is speaking at a peak oil conference in Ireland, as is former U.S. Energy Secretary James Schlesinger.

Most peak-oil proponents simply don't believe the numbers put forward by industry and the government.

The world will produce 118 million barrels of oil a day, up from its current 85 million barrels per day, just to satisfy projected demand by 2030, according to the Energy Information Agency.

"That's never going to happen," said Richard Heinberg, a research fellow at the Post Carbon Institute and author of three books on peak oil.

Heinberg says world production of regular crude oil actually peaked in May 2005. He also says production in 33 of the 48 largest oil producing countries is in decline, and that global oil discoveries peaked in 1964.

Most importantly, he says reserves in the Middle East, where EIA predicts the bulk of new supply will come from, have been "systematically overstated."

"Everyone just takes their figures at face value," Heinberg said. "But they are national oil companies, they can't be audited."

Instead of production ramping up to 118 million barrels per day, Heinberg sees a plateau over the next few years, then gradual declines beginning in 2010.

By 2015, he says the rate of decline will accelerate as field after field runs dry and few new supplies are found. By 2030, the world could be looking at powering its economy on 30 million barrels a day.

"It's going to be an enormous shock to the global system," said Heinberg. "We're talking something on the order of the Great Depression, perhaps much worse."

As for billions starving to death when crops dependent on fossil fuel-based fertilizers fail en masse, he said, "that's the worst case scenario, but it can't be ruled out."

Indeed, Web sites devoted to peak oil sell numerous survival-style books seemingly geared toward a society in which, at the very least, the basic economic infrastructure has broken down - if there's not total anarchy.

From the Web site, titles include "Gardening When it Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times" and "Crisis Preparedness Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Home Storage and Physical Survival."

"It's fear mongering, sensationalist crap," said Fadel Gheit, a senior energy analyst at Oppenheimer.

Gheit says there's plenty of oil out there, it just needs to get to a price where it's profitable to extract.

"We have so far consumed one trillion barrels" in all of history, he said, pointing to a 2000 study from the U.S. Geological Survey that made predictions based on rising prices, technology advances and assumed new discoveries based on past finds. "There are three trillion more to go."

3 court cases for climate change

He said proven oil reserves - the ones oil companies believe they can extract with today's technology at current prices - have increased every year for the last 30 years.

A lot of the new oil will come from existing fields, said Gheit.

He said oil companies have never extracted more than 30 or 40 percent of the oil in any given field. It just became too expensive to continue drilling there, so the companies moved on to new areas.

"The free market is working," he said. "With higher prices, there will be incentive for companies to develop new technology" to extract the remaining oil.

Industry executives also downplay the peak oil theory.

"Similar predictions were made in 1914, in 1939, in 1951, when post-war demand was on the rise, and again in the 1970s," Exxon Mobil (Charts, Fortune 500) head Rex Tillerson was quoted saying in the Calgary Sun in 2005. "These predictions were always proven wrong."

But whether oil production peaks or not, by pushing crude prices up more than eightfold over the last 10 years, traders clearly believe supplies will strain to keep up with demand.

"Growth in the developing world is just too great," said Stephen Leeb, an investment manager who has authored two books on oil scarcity, the last one predicting $200-a-barrel oil in the next 5 to 10 years. "Demand for oil will outstrip supply."

Greenspan Spills the Beans on Oil

By Ray McGovern

For those still wondering why President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney sent our young men and women into Iraq, the secret is now “largely” out.

No, not from the lips of former Secretary of State Colin Powell. It appears we shall have to wait until the disgraced general/diplomat draws nearer to meeting his maker before he gets concerned over anything more than the “blot” that Iraq has put on his reputation.

Rather, the uncommon candor comes from a highly respected Republican doyen, economist Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve from 1987 to 2006, whom the president has praised for his “wise policies and prudent judgment.”

Sadly for Bush and Cheney, Greenspan decided to put prudence aside in his new book, The Age of Turbulence, and answer the most neuralgic issue of our times—why the United States invaded Iraq.

Greenspan writes:

“I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”

Everyone knows? Would that it were so. But it’s hardly everyone.

There are so many, still, who “can’t handle the truth,” and that is understandable. I have found it a wrenching experience to conclude that the America I love would deliberately launch what the Nuremburg Tribunal called the “supreme international crime”—a war of aggression—largely for oil.

For those who are able to overcome the very common, instinctive denial, for those who can handle the truth, it really helps to turn off the Sunday football games early enough to catch up on what’s going on.

There they could have seen another of Bush’s senior economic advisers, former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill on Jan. 11, 2004, discussing The Price of Loyalty, his memoir about his two years inside the Bush administration.

O’Neill, a plain speaker, likened the president’s behavior at cabinet meetings to that of “a blind man in a roomful of deaf people.” Cheney and “a praetorian guard that encircled the president” would help Bush make decisions off-line, blocking contrary views.

Cheney has a Rumsfeldian knack for aphorisms that don’t parse in the real world— like “deficits don’t matter.” To his credit, O’Neill picked a fight with that and ended up being fired personally by Cheney. In his book, Greenspan heaps scorn on the same Cheneyesque insight.

O’Neill made no bones about his befuddlement over the president’s diffident disengagement from discussions on policy, except, that is, for Bush’s remarks betraying a pep-rally-cheerleader fixation with removing Saddam Hussein and occupying Iraq.

Why Iraq? 'Largely Oil'

O’Neill began to understand right after Bush’s inauguration when the discussion among his top advisers abruptly moved to how to divvy up Iraq’s oil wealth.

Just days into the job, President Bush created the Cheney energy task force with the stated aim of developing “a national energy policy designed to help the private sector.” Typically, Cheney has been able to keep secret its deliberations and even the names of its members.

But a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit forced the Commerce Department to turn over task force documents, including a map of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries, terminals, and potential areas for exploration; a Pentagon chart “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts”; and another chart detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects—all dated March 2001.

On the 60 Minutes program on Dec. 15, 2002, Steve Croft asked then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, “What do you say to people who think this [the coming invasion of Iraq] is about oil?” Rumsfeld replied:

“Nonsense. It just isn’t. There—there—there are certain............. things like that, myths that are floating around. I’m glad you asked. I—it has nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil.”

Au Contraire

Greenspan’s indiscreet remark adds to the abundant evidence that Iraq oil, and not weapons of mass destruction, was the priority target long before the Bush administration invoked WMD as a pretext to invade Iraq.

In the heady days of “Mission Accomplished,” a week after the president landed on the aircraft carrier, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz virtually bragged about the deceit during an interview.

On May 9, 2003, Wolfowitz told Vanity Fair:

“The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason...”

During a relaxed moment in Singapore later that same month, Wolfowitz reminded the press that Iraq “floats on a sea of oil,” and thus added to the migraine he had already given folks in the White House PR shop.

But wait. For those of us absorbing more than Fox channel news, the primacy of the oil factor was a no-brainer.

The limited number of invading troops were ordered to give priority to securing the oil wells and oil industry infrastructure immediately and let looters have their way with just about everything else (including the ammunition storage depots!).

Barely three weeks into the war, Rumsfeld famously answered criticism for not stopping the looting: “Stuff happens.” No stuff happened to the Oil Ministry.

Small wonder that, according to O’Neill, Rumsfeld tried hard to dissuade him from writing his book and has avoided all comment on it. As for Greenspan’s book, Rumsfeld will find it easier to dodge questions from the Washington press corps from his sinecure at the Hoover Institute at Stanford.

Eminence Grise...or Oily

But the other half of what Col. Larry Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff at the State Department, calls the “Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal” is still lurking in the shadows.

What changed Cheney’s attitude toward Iraq from his sensible remark in 1992 when then-Defense Secretary Cheney defended President George H.W. Bush's decision in 1991 not to follow up the expulsion of Iraqi troops from Kuwait with the ouster of Saddam Hussein and the conquest of Iraq.

“How many additional American casualties is Saddam worth?” Cheney asked in August 1992. “Not that damned many. So I think we got it right...when the president made the decision that we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq.”

Then, there were Cheney’s revealing, damning remarks as Halliburton's CEO?

“Oil companies are expected to keep developing enough oil to offset oil depletion and also to meet new demand,” Cheney said in autumn 1999. “So where is the oil going to come from? Governments and the national oil companies are obviously in control of 90 percent of the assets. Oil remains fundamentally a government business. The Middle East with two-thirds of the world’s oil and the lowest cost is still where the prize ultimately lies.”

Not only Cheney, but also many of the captains of the oil industry were looking on Iraq with covetous eyes before the war.

Most forget that the Bush/Cheney administration came in on the heels of severe shortages of oil and natural gas in the U.S., and the passing of a milestone at which the United States had just begun importing more than half of the oil it consumes.

One oil executive confided to a New York Times reporter a month before the war: “For any oil company, being in Iraq is like being a kid in F.A.O. Schwarz.”

There were, to be sure, other factors behind the ill-starred attack on Iraq—the determination to acquire permanent military bases in the area, for one. But that factor can be viewed as a subset of the energy motivation.

In other words, the felt need for what the Pentagon prefers to call “enduring” military bases in the Middle East is a function of its strategic importance which is a function—you guessed it, a function of its natural resources. Not only oil, but natural gas and water as well.

In my opinion, the other major factor in the Bush/Cheney decision to make war on Iraq was the misguided notion that this would make that part of the world safer for Israel.

Indeed, the so-called “neo-conservatives” still running U.S. policy toward the Middle East continue to have great difficulty distinguishing between what they perceive to be the strategic interests of Israel and those of the United States.

Why Are Americans Silent?

Could it be that many Americans remain silent because we are unwilling to recognize the Iraq war as the first of the resource wars of the 21st century; because we continue to be comfortable hogging far more than our share of the world’s resources and will look the other way if our leaders tell us that aggressive war is necessary to protect that siren-call, “our way of life,” from attack by those who are just plain jealous?

Perhaps a clue can be found in the remarkable reaction I received after a lecture I gave two and a half years ago in a very affluent suburb of Milwaukee. I had devoted much of my talk to what I consider the most important factoid of this century: the world is running out of oil.

Afterwards some 20 folks lingered in a small circle to ask follow-up questions. A persistent, handsomely dressed man, who just would not let go, dominated the questioning:

"Surely you agree that we need the oil. Then what's your problem? Some 1,450 killed thus far are far fewer than the toll in Vietnam where we lost 58,000; it's a small price to pay... a sustainable rate to bear. What IS your problem?"

I asked the man if he would feel differently if one of those (then) 1,450 killed were his own son. Judging from his abrupt, incredulous reaction, the suggestion struck him as so farfetched as to be beyond his ken. “It wouldn’t be my son,” he said.

And that, I believe, is a HUGE part of the problem.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. A former CIA analyst, he is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. His e-mail is

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Peak Oil: Why It Matters and What We Can Do About It

Three Peak Oil Consequences and Three Strategies For Avoiding the Worst

Some analysts believe the world is at or near hitting peak oil — the point at which so much oil has been pumped that demand begins to outstrip supply, leaving a yawning and persistent gap.

In a nutshell, here’s why hitting peak oil is a concern:

  • Taking Your Lumps At The Pump: If crude is more expensive to extract, and the supply tight, the price to fill your tank goes up. Economics 101.

  • Spawning A Tsunami In The Economy: Oil accounts for one third of the energy consumed in the world, and it is the base of the U.S. economic web. It’s the fertilizer that grows the food, the plastic in the packaging, the chemicals in the products, and of course the fuel to get it all from here to there. As the price of oil goes up, so goes the price of just about everything else.

  • Causing Geopolitical Upheaval: Alternatives to oil aren’t ready to take its place, at least not yet. The Department of Energy estimates that the U.S. is ready to produce just 4% of demand from alternatives by 2015, and about 34% by 2025. In the meantime, besides “worldwide recession,” as the U.S. Government Accountability Office warned, nations would have sudden and new incentives to make war over the remaining reserves.

There are ways to prepare for the inevitable peak.

  • Go Green: Transportation accounts for two thirds of the U.S. consumption of oil, so increasing vehicle efficiency and developing viable alternative fuels sooner rather than later can help. Buying locally sourced food and products cuts down on the oil needed to transport goods, and choosing bulk and lightly packaged products cuts down on the need for unnecessary plastic.

  • Grow Sustainably: Communities can rein in sprawl and focus development around existing villages and cities so that people are less reliant on cars to get to work, school, shopping and recreation.

  • Get Creative: Even Congress is talking about making new investments in alternative energy research and development. Besides fuels, chemicals and plastics can, in many cases, be produced with alternative feed stocks, like vegetable oils. One big problem is that there isn’t enough land to produce fuel, chemical feedstock and food with any known agricultural product. That’s where the creativity comes in.

Salt water as fuel? Erie man hopes so

Salt water as fuel? Erie man hopes so

By David Templeton

For obvious reasons, scientists long have thought that salt water couldn't be burned.

So when an Erie man announced he'd ignited salt water with the radio-frequency generator he'd invented, some thought it a was a hoax.

John Kanzius, a Washington County native, tried to desalinate seawater with a generator he developed to treat cancer, and it caused a flash in the test tube.

Within days, he had the salt water in the test tube burning like a candle, as long as it was exposed to radio frequencies.

His discovery has spawned scientific interest in using the world's most abundant substance as clean fuel, among other uses.

Rustum Roy, a Penn State University chemist, held a demonstration last week at the university's Materials Research Laboratory in State College, to confirm what he'd witnessed weeks before in an Erie lab.

"It's true, it works," Dr. Roy said. "Everyone told me, 'Rustum, don't be fooled. He put electrodes in there.' "

But there are no electrodes and no gimmicks, he said.

Dr. Roy said the salt water isn't burning per se, despite appearances. The radio frequency actually weakens bonds holding together the constituents of salt water -- sodium chloride, hydrogen and oxygen -- and releases the hydrogen, which, once ignited, burns continuously when exposed to the RF energy field. Mr. Kanzius said an independent source measured the flame's temperature, which exceeds 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, reflecting an enormous energy output.

As such, Dr. Roy, a founding member of the Materials Research Laboratory and expert in water structure, said Mr. Kanzius' discovery represents "the most remarkable in water science in 100 years."

But researching its potential will take time and money, he said. One immediate question is energy efficiency: The energy the RF generator uses vs. the energy output from burning hydrogen.

Dr. Roy said he's scheduled to meet tomorrow with U.S. Department of Energy and Department of Defense officials in Washington to discuss the discovery and seek research funding.

Mr. Kanzius said he powered a Stirling, or hot air, engine with salt water. But whether the system can power a car or be used as an efficient fuel will depend on research results.

"We will get our ideas together and check this out and see where it leads," Dr. Roy said. "The potential is huge.

"In the life sciences, the role of water is infinite, and this guy is doing something new in using the most important and most abundant material on the face of the earth."

Mr. Kanzius' discovery was an accident.

He developed the RF generator as a novel cancer treatment. His research in targeting cancer cells with metallic nanoparticles then destroying them with radio-frequency is proceeding at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and at the University of Texas' MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Manuscripts updating the cancer research are in preparation for publication in coming months, Mr. Kanzius said.

While Mr. Kanzius was demonstrating how his generator heated nanoparticles, someone noted condensation inside the test tube and suggested he try using his equipment to desalinate water.

So, Mr. Kanzius said, he put sea water in a test tube, then trained his machine on it, producing an unexpected spark. In time he and laboratory owners struck a match and ignited the water, which continued burning as long as it remained in the radio-frequency field.

During several trials, heat from burning hydrogen grew hot enough to melt the test tube, he said. Dr. Roy's tests on the machine last week provided further evidence that the process is releasing and burning hydrogen from the water. Tests on different water solutions and concentrations produced various temperatures and flame colors.

"This is the most abundant element in the world. It is everywhere," Dr. Roy said of salt water. "Seeing it burn gives me chills."