Monday, October 27, 2008

First there is Peak Oil, then there's no Peak Oil, then there is

(Donovan, There is a Mountain, from The Essential Donovan)

First there is Peak Oil

Everybody remembers that oil cost $147/bbl on July 11, 2008, right?

Then there's no Peak Oil

Now that the price of oil is down to roughly $65/bbl as of 2008.10.24, we're seeing articles with headlines like "The tank isn't empty", "The passing of peak oil?", "Was 'Peak Oil' a Multi-Billion Dollar Hoax?", "The Myth of No Oil", "Were We Wrong to Fret About Peak Oil?", and "Peak Oil: Who Cares?":

It's official. Peak oil is a loser. It blew a tire on the curve, and lost the TEOTWAWKI* 500 to the ongoing US financial meltdown. Valiant efforts are being made at the peak oil sites to maintain interest and somehow blame the collapse on oil, or at least find some flimsy connection... to no avail. The PO community is looking increasingly like the village idiot who warned everybody about the tornado, just before the big flood hit.

*TEOTWAWKI -- The End Of The World As We Know It.

Some of these articles are about how we must not get complacent about oil supply. Others are about how Peak Oil advocates don't properly account for supply considerations such as "unconventional" oil (bituminous sand aka "oil sands" and kerogen aka "oil shale") or new extraction technologies.

Peak Oil has certainly slid to the back burner.

Then there is

(World liquids production excluding biofuels, The Oil Drum)

Regardless of whether we've reached Peak Oil or not, there's no doubt that it is coming. Our best understanding of reality is that petroleum is a limited resource. We are extracting that resource far faster than the earth creates it. Bait-and-switches like changing the discussion from light sweet crude to all liquids don't change that. Unconventional oil sources are just expensive ways to convert one form of energy into petroleum or something very like it. If we had infinite renewable energy (fusion power or extensive solar and wind), unconventional oil reserves could serve our need for oil (as opposed to energy), but they do not represent a viable energy source now or in the immediate future. Sooner or later, we reach extraction/production capacity on oil and close substitutes. Our demand for oil and substitutes seems insatiable and will exceed supply. Then bad shit happens. Whether it's like our current economic meltdown or we enter Mad Max territory will depend upon how we prepare.

The economic meltdown doesn't change that. It may, in fact, give us incentive to invest in infrastructure that will mitigate the effects of Peak Oil. It will reduce our demand for oil and other energy because of the economic slowdown.

Regardless of what the current press is about Peak Oil,