Saturday, October 29, 2005

That Pesky Peak Oil Problem


Peak oil is just not going to go away. I was playing with some numbers from the Oil and Gas Journal as my starting point and built up a spreadsheet inspired by another one I'd seen elsewhere lately. I kept things simple and I gave every benefit of the doubt to the cornucopians (people who think oil will always be plentiful for the foreseeable future). I used a depletion rate of 6.9% which is industry average even though most fields are beginning to deplete faster. I used that same depletion rate on new fields, even though new fields seem to deplete closer to 15% annually and last no more than 6-7 years. I even allowed new fields to stay online 15 years instead of 6-7 years and I limited world growth demand to just 2% annually for new oil.

The line going down from 2004 with the blue boxes is annual production. The line going up is the annual demand. The really thorny problem is that it seems that the bulk of existing fields are in decline, not just a few. And as all these old fields go into decline, the industry's promise to bring 3-4 million barrels per day of new production online each year is just not going to cut it. Heck, I even doubled the industry projection to 6 million barrels per day of new production each year and it just delays the decline by about 3 more years tops and we go negative (demand exceeds supply) in 2009 instead of 2006. What people don't realize is that the entire world production today of roughly 84 million barrels will fall to less than 16 million barrels by 2030. This means that to support growth, we not only have to find enough new oil for the growing demand of India and China, but we also have to replace 68 million barrels per day of production by then. This is close to 130 million barrels of all new production when we haven't even reached that in the first 150 years of production. Geometric growth curves are evil things, including when applied to geometrically growing human populations and demand.

Dr. Kenneth Deffeyes is calling peak this year. Ali Morteza Samsam Bakhtiari, senior expert at the National Iranian Oil Company, is calling peak this year. Multiple other geologists are calling peak this year. Who opposes them? Economists, people with no formal training in physics, chemistry, earth sciences, geology, and particularly petroleum geology. The same economists who can't figure out what inflation is going to be next month are telling us that the geologists are wrong, despite those same geologists having been right time and time again, since Dr. M. King Hubbert first made his prediction of an oil peak oil for the US back in the 1950s (which happened on schedule in 1970) and then made his world oil peak prediction in the 1960s for the early 20th century.

Who do I trust? The geologists, of course. What does peak oil mean to people in the first world? Not much at first except rising prices across the board. The poorer nations will be cut off first, by lack of cash to buy oil. It's already happened in places like Zimbabwe, Somalia, Nicaragua, and Tibet. It will happen more. And as the gap between supply and demand grows larger and larger, the price will generally escalate, though swings will occur largely due to irrational human psyches trying to wish it down. Later, peak oil will affect everyone negatively, unless you cut your oil addiction now. If I was independently wealthy, I'd get off the grid, go completely solar power, earth sheltered passive heating and cooling, on my own property at least 2 hours from any major city and in or near a small town. Since I am not, I'll have to cope as I can.

If you want to know how to handle peak oil, talk to your grandparents or great-grandparents if they lived through the depression. Collect their thoughts and ideas now. Learn to grow a garden. Begin walking as much as you can because if things really go south, soon you won't have much choice. And don't bother asking your representatives to bail you out because it's too late. This is going to hurt and it's going to hurt all of us. The best we can do now is grit our teeth and bear it.

Oil is a finite resource. Higher prices can only produce so much oil and eventually it will be all gone. But on the way down to empty on the gas tank we can expect wars over remaining oil, economic stagnation and recession, and perhaps ultimately extreme depression. And the only way out of this is something other than oil. Got seeds and hand garden tools? Maybe you should.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Hello, Mainstream Media? Anyone Home?

For every problem we humans face, there seems to be something wonderful as well. All of this continues to ensure that the future remains a blurry grey zone. One of the positives I've been following for a few years is the concept of quantum nucleonic reactors. These reactors are not "nuclear" at all so don't confuse the term "nucleonic" with nuclear, as I've seen many others do. In fact, if you want to understand a little bit of the physics involved, you ought to read this paper from the University of Texas at Dallas that describes The Essential Fundamentals of Quantum Nucleonics.

Apparently the United States Air Force is considering building a quantum nucleonic powered aircraft to be used for various purposes. The most immediate thought is of drone planes hovering over enemy territory. But I wonder how such a power source might be used outside of military applications. Would quantum nucleonic reactor powered aircraft provide financial stability to the airline industry? Can quantum nucleonic powered trains become the backbone of a cleaner and less oil-dependent transportation network?

Technology like this provides us with a way to both reduce dependence on oil, thus extending the lifespan of available oil supplies, and to reduce total greenhouse emissions, basically killing two birds with one stone. Such reactors might also be useful in powering ships as well as aircraft or trains.

Humanity stands at a crossroads. We've reached a point where we can and are making indelible and dangerous impacts on the world in which we live. We must make choices and soon. The choices we make will decide whether we move forward to a brighter tomorrow or backwards towards the Olduvai Gorge from whence we came.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Quantum Nucleonic Reactors and Our Future

For every problem we humans face, there seems to be something wonderful as well. All of this continues to ensure that the future remains a blurry grey zone. One of the positives I've been following for a few years is the concept of quantum nucleonic reactors. These reactors are not "nuclear" at all so don't confuse the term "nucleonic" with nuclear, as I've seen many others do. In fact, if you want to understand a little bit of the physics involved, you ought to read this paper from the University of Texas at Dallas that describes The Essential Fundamentals of Quantum Nucleonics.

Apparently the United States Air Force is considering building a quantum nucleonic powered aircraft to be used for various purposes. The most immediate thought is of drone planes hovering over enemy territory. But I wonder how such a power source might be used outside of military applications. Would quantum nucleonic reactor powered aircraft provide financial stability to the airline industry? Can quantum nucleonic powered trains become the backbone of a cleaner and less oil-dependent transportation network?

Technology like this provides us with a way to both reduce dependence on oil, thus extending the lifespan of available oil supplies, and to reduce total greenhouse emissions, basically killing two birds with one stone. Such reactors might also be useful in powering ships as well as aircraft or trains.

Humanity stands at a crossroads. We've reached a point where we can and are making indelible and dangerous impacts on the world in which we live. We must make choices and soon. The choices we make will decide whether we move forward to a brighter tomorrow or backwards towards the Olduvai Gorge from whence we came.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

By Fire or By Ice?

Today I had the opportunity to read The Heat Death of American Dreams. It's an interesting post and like many about global warming tries to make the case for the seriousness of what is happening. Yet amidst all the noise and thunder, the author simply fails to note that the models upon which he bases his expectations have already seriously failed. In other words, the models are highly flawed, yet he bases his sense of urgency on those very flaws.

Now I happen to agree with him that there is a hugely pressing environmental problem staring at us, but in choosing what we can or even if we can do anything about it, it's important for us to get as accurate of a picture about what is going to occur as we can. But since the models used for these predictions are heavily flawed with events occurring now that were not expected for another 90+ years, we need to look elsewhere in order to have some basis for what may occur.

Fortunately, aside from these flawed models used by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we also have the historical record to consult. And also, perhaps fortuitously for the human race, paleo-climatology has begun to actually unravel what has happened to this planet's climate in the more recent past as opposed to the remote past quoted in the article.

In the last 20 years large breakthroughs have been made in understanding The Science of Abrupt Climate Change. Articles about Rapid Climage Change at places like the American Institute of Physics, or The History of Climate Change, or The Discovery of Rapid Climate Change all contribute to the understanding of what happened in the past on this blue planet. And the geologic record is breathtaking.

What we discover as we venture down this avenue of study is that climate has changed suddenly and frequently over the last several hundred thousand years. The changes have occurred within the span of potential human lifetimes and some have been confirmed to have completed whole state changes from warm age to ice age in under 5 years time. So why is this important to us in relation to the fears of heat death on earth due to global warming? Because the evidence is steadily growing that many, if not most of the rapid transitions to ice occurred in relationship to warming events, and further, that those warming events show evidence of high amounts of greenhouse gases.

That is our real problem, based on the evidence. Not death by fire but death by ice. Death by mile thick glaciers extending as far south as Oregon and Ohio. Death by desertification of the central US as it turns to a cold, dry wasteland, destroying our arable farmlands. And what is incredible is that related events, like the weakening of the Gulf current in the Atlantic, the breakup of Antarctic ice shelves, and the melting of the northern polar cap and Greenland are happening at rates that validate the geologic record and not the UN IPCC's model.

Either result, if it occurs, would be catastrophic for mankind. But for me the evidence points to ice, not fire, and that will color my thoughts and decisions going forward into tomorrow.

The Changes on the Horizon

The human race is on the edge of a wave of changes that will remake our world and our way of life. Those changes may give us a far better world or something far worse. Those choices are up to us, now, today. In this blog, my goal is to discuss these changes and the choices we face, for both better and worse.