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Page added on May 27, 2014

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Explaining Peak Oil

Explaining Peak Oil thumbnail

Hubbert’s Peak

Peak oil is seen by many oil experts and economists as a major threat to the stability of the global economy and social structure. In 1956, M King Hubbert developed models that correctly foretold that between 1965 -70 oil production in the United States of America would reach a peak and then decline. This model known, as Hubbert’s Peak has proved to be acceptably accurate in forecasting the rise and fall in production for oil-fields both regionally and nationally.

Burning oil for transportation
Burning oil for transportation

The reliance of western economies on oil

Most of the important component activities of an industrialised nation such as the UK are dependent on the use of oil. For example, most forms of mechanical transport rely on oil for fuel or lubrication. Therefore, what is produced in factories or farms and then sent to the marketplace uses oil for transportation and probably in some stage of the production. Even the extraction of other fuels such as coal or gas will use oil at some stage for either production or transportation.

 

Oil is also used in pesticides and fertilisers to help grow food which will need to be packaged using oil derived products and transported using petrol or diesel. We use oil for heating homes, as well as in the building of factories, shops, houses, offices and building of all purposes and in the construction of roads.

Oil has been such a cost effective part of many products and activities that we take it for granted today and its versatility has made it indispensible to industrialised societies and around 80 million barrels used each day

Peak oil and climate change

The bad news is that lurking just around the corner is a crisis. In fact there are two because climate change is in process and so too is peak oil and the two are inextricably linked. When oil and gas are burnt carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere which increases global warming.

In the past oil was extracted from the most easily accessible sites such as those found on land in places like Texas or Saudi Arabia, but as demand increased and established fields gave less yield, prices rose. With the world’s human population increasing and with demand for oil growing and prices rising, less accessible places such as those in the oceans in the North Sea or the Gulf of Mexico became more cost effective options to meet demand.

With the fast emerging of newly industrialises nations with huge human populations such as India and China, demand for oil began rocketing along with its burning, which in turn adds more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere increasing the greenhouse effect and climate change.

 

People everywhere have an inbuilt desire to improve their living standards and that desire is manipulated by commercial interests that fuel a want for more and more gadgets and devices that are not really necessities but presented as such and in turn perceived as such. So more and more goods are demanded requiring more and more oil to produce and move them.

When the pumps run dry
When the pumps run dry

When oil production peaks

An oil field has only a limited quantity of oil that can be extracted and once production peaks then it falls off. With oil production in some fields peaking oil-producing countries have tried to limit production of oil, but limiting production often caused price rises which in turn caused many countries economic difficulties. When roughly half of the recoverable oil a field contains has been extracted what remains is of lower quality, slower flowing and expensive to extract and declining in quantity.

 

Peak oil is when all of the known global oil fields reach that peak and start to decline in yield. But because many fields have different oil reserves and started production at different times and it is difficult ot be specific when the world’s total oil production will peak though individual it is easier to identify when individual fields will peak. Nevertheless, peak it will and the consequences for industrialised nations and even those who are not are dire indeed.

New oil fields are being discovered at a much slower rate than the rate it is being consumed so inevitably, oil will run out. But the crisis will come before that as total world production peaks and then falls while demand rises and so will the price putting the economies of oil-dependent countries under pressure.

Many world oil experts predict that world peak oil will occur between 2010 and 2020 though economic recession could postpone this, but it will happen. Some experts think that oil has already peaked, or may peak sooner. It is very clear that sooner or later, willingly or otherwise, the industrialised nations and the rest of the world will have to find a way of living without oil and in turn, coal and gas as they also have limited reserves which will in time also peak.

Taking action

There is a real and urgent need for action by the world’s political leaders and organisations like the United Nations to begin to show an awareness of the inevitable situation and begin to show strong leadership and direction on these issues. Peak oil and climate change will affect every man woman and child on the planet, there will be no escape.

The challenge of how a society can function will require major changes to the thinking and behaviour of every one.  Many businesses will simply cease to operate, other will have to drastically change their practices, and new enterprises will spring up that exploit or utilise the new situation in some way

Changes to society

It will also mean that societies have to rearrange their values and practices and there may well be changes to the social order. This may well sound frightening but humans lived in societies before the Oil Age which itself takes up a small piece of the human timeline. Humans are also enterprising and adaptable and will certainly find ways to survive and even thrive in the new situation.

Peak oil will affect the livelihood of whole countries, cities, towns and villages. For example many people work outside their immediate neighbourhood using oil-fuelled transportation to get to their places of work at present. There will be a need for other forms of energy to power transport, or people will have to find work nearer home.

 

Another example is where products such as food are grown in one place and then transported great distance by various means and often round the world using oil powered transport. This will be unviable and there will be a need to grow food locally for local consumption to save on transport.

Indeed, many other goods and products that were once transported great distances will need to be produced and distributed locally. This may well cause problems for small farmers and craftsmen in many Third World countries who have come to rely on the Fairtrade scheme for marketing their products to the western world. Somehow ways will need to be found to help them, perhaps by helping to develop local markets though in such places money to buy goods is scarce.

With many activities such as the growing of food there are techniques, knowledge and technology already in existence and increasingly being used and developed further that will help. But the real challenge will come in persuading humans and human organisations such as governments and businesses that may have vested interests in fighting changes that will affect their power or profits.

 

Many people may not understand the need for such changes to their lifestyle especially when some changes may mean a lowering of modern day living standards and changes to their working life and this may result in social unrest.

Recycle as much as possible
Recycle as much as possible

Facing up to peak oil

On a positive note, there is a steadily increasing use of renewable energy such as solar and wind power and the use of better insulation to conserve energy and save on energy costs.  Appliances and machines are being made to use less energy and there is an increasing practice of recycling materials.   There is also an increasing use of Permaculture techniques and practices to create sustainable agriculture, and living environment for humans.

If governments take the threat of peak oil seriously enough and act in time then disruption to economies and social systems may not be as acute or painful with a controlled transition – but will they?

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6 Comments on "Explaining Peak Oil"

  1. John Harris on Tue, 27th May 2014 3:32 pm 

    This article just restates the things that peak oil analysts have been stating for years. One additional point I would make is that the same issues will be faced by all industrialized countries – not just western ones. South Korea, Taiwan and Japan, for instance, import a far greater proportion of their hydrocarbons then the US, for example.

  2. GregT on Tue, 27th May 2014 7:43 pm 

    “There is a real and urgent need for action by the world’s political leaders and organisations like the United Nations to begin to show an awareness of the inevitable situation and begin to show strong leadership and direction on these issues.”

    A world war might alleviate some of the pressure, short term pain, for long term gain, so to speak. It would also alleviate a great deal of long term suffering.

    “Many businesses will simply cease to operate, other will have to drastically change their practices, and new enterprises will spring up that exploit or utilise the new situation in some way.”

    Once the oil is not longer available, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the vast majority of businesses will cease to exist. There will be opportunities however, people always seem to find ways to capitalize on others’ misery.

    ” humans lived in societies before the Oil Age which itself takes up a small piece of the human timeline.”

    And the amount of humans were also a small fraction of what they are today. There will be a large die off of our species.

    “There will be a need for other forms of energy to power transport, or people will have to find work nearer home.”

    There will be plenty of work to do at home. Survival is a full time job. Those that had the foresight to move away from largely populated areas, will not have any problems ‘finding’ work.

    “goods and products that were once transported great distances will need to be produced and distributed locally. This may well cause problems for small farmers and craftsmen in many Third World countries”

    This will cause problems for the people that don’t live locally, not the the local farmers and craftsmen. People will be looking to them for food and goods, and there won’t be enough to go around.

    “Many people may not understand the need for such changes to their lifestyle especially when some changes may mean a lowering of modern day living standards and changes to their working life and this may result in social unrest.”

    The changes coming, are going to far greater than the author appears able to comprehend.

    “Appliances and machines are being made to use less energy and there is an increasing practice of recycling materials.”

    See above.

  3. Cloud9 on Tue, 27th May 2014 8:42 pm 

    The collapse is ongoing and all around us. Retail sales of gallons of gasoline are a third of what they were a decade ago. Every day more of us drop out of the workforce and sign up for some form of government subsidy. Retail is collapsing. Prices for food and fuel are going up while wages remain stagnant.

    High finance and manipulation let us ignore what was happening in the 1970’s. We partied through the eighties and nineties. Now the chickens are coming home to roost. The sad truth is a lot of us are not going to make it through the chaos to the new normal. Everybody is arming up. The cities are going to become a blight on the rest of us. God help us because our sins are going to be visited on the third and fourth generations.

  4. pat on Tue, 27th May 2014 9:58 pm 

    the biggest show on earth begins as early as 2015 and many are not going to make it… learn grown own food and begin preparations…

  5. meld on Wed, 28th May 2014 4:17 am 

    in no particular order

    1) Learn to grow your own food without any fossil fuel input (harder than you;d think)

    2)Learn to Forage your local area

    3) Learn first aid

    4) Learn to navigate (preferably by the stars and natural identifiers)

    5) Join or start a religious movement and get others involved. Personally I think Druidry is a great religion to start in a local area. It’s basically spiritual science and it’s stress relieving

    6)Collect containers to hold water and build rainwater collectors

    7) Build a rocket stove and a solar oven

    8)Get some household DIY training in plumbing, roofing etc.

    9) learn a martial art and get yourself some defensive weapons

    10) Take up yoga. Yoga slows your metabolism meaning you won’t need as many calories if the SHTF

    11) Make yourself know in the community as an upstanding knowledgeable helpful kind of chap.

  6. Davy, Hermann, MO on Wed, 28th May 2014 6:28 am 

    Good ideas Meld. I have a survival handbook I authored for family and friends. It is a great read and well researched. I can tell folks here if you intend to start a garden when collapse comes it is very difficult. If you do start one during growing season forget your other hobbies if you want a garden with sufficient produce to compliment your nutritional needs. It takes several years to go through the learning curve and garden tweaking. Remember gardening also involves preservation and fertility efforts. Melds brings up a point of a garden without BAU products. A very hard endeavor on top of a hard endeavor. Meld makes a good point about community it will be essential for long term survivability and always has been. We are talking at least a tribe level. There is so much to do with versatility and eclectic skills as opposed to the current specializations needed in BAU.

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