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

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.


At 3:52 PM, September 28, 2007, Anonymous Jim Tuzo said...

What about peak oil?
There is still plenty of oil out there but not the good stuff.  Shortages of cheap oil are closer than we think. Prices will continue to rise as we are forced to extract the dregs of abandoned fields and accept low grade crude from harder to access new ones. 
In some cases almost as much energy will be expended to extract the oil as to be derived from it (compounding pollution).  The Alberta Tar Sands is one example.  The $billions being spent on this development also proves (despite denials) that authorities do expect the coming shortage.  It is not just to reduce dependence on foreign oil because the Saudis’ actions also speak louder than words.
Why do you think the Saudis have invested so heavily in America and around the world?  Yes, it does allow them a measure of control but it is mainly as a fallback. You can also bet that the investments are anything but oil related.
New and different refineries will also need to be built at great cost to process this “sludge”.  Why do you think the U.S. was caught short of refinery capacity after hurricane Katrina?  New refineries have not been built for years because industry and government knew full well they would be useless when the “sweet crude” runs out.

The main “fixes” authorities promote are conservation and ethanol.  Voluntary conservation just did not work; neither did allowing the price of gas to rise; neither did heavy taxes on new SUVs.   Desperation shows in increasing legislation.  Is rationing next?
Farmers growing corn for large scale ethanol production has already meant:
- Less for humans - the corn price went up.
- Less to feed livestock – meat and dairy prices went up.
- Not growing fruits and vegetables - those prices went up.
- Not growing wheat – the price of just about all other foods went up.

Food price increases hurt poor people the most.  Ethanol merely turns a shortage of cheap oil into a more painful food shortage.  Ethanol may burn a bit “cleaner” but still produces the same heat contribution to global warming.  The fashionable “fixes” are either useless or cause more harm than good. 

Where does that leave us?

Peak Oil Energy Crisis:
With apologies and kudos to those who try to reduce altruistically; it must be said that using less oil is not even a band-aid fix (it just makes you feel good).  The same applies to inefficient alternatives such as wind and solar.  Even if we set a good example, human nature suggests that the demands of population growth and more nations industrializing will surely and swiftly override our conservation and energy alternative efforts.

What do we do then for an encore?

The only answer to both “Peak Oil” and Global Warming, as well as space colonies is to go on to develop a totally new type of power.  Power for ground, air and space transportation; power to operate all kinds of machinery and generate electricity.  We must stop the inefficient polluting, and expensive wasting of fuels.

All we have to do is learn to use energy directly, in its most ubiquitous form in the universe - - - Gravity.  Hydro-electric and Tidal power are steps in the right direction; however they are not available everywhere and come with ecological concerns.

Visit for the only real answer.


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