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Page added on December 20, 2010

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The Stubbornness Of Denial

General Ideas

I suggested that calling out the nonsense from those who deny that we will soon confront the effects of declining oil supplies must continue. Those of us who seek only to inform others have an obligation to share what we know: that we have some energy-related issues on the near-horizon that will require a great deal more effort and innovation than we’re prepared for (to put it mildly). To that end, I also posted these two essays (here and here) as example of what we must continue to do, and why.

This is not to say I/we should engage ourselves in endless games of ping-pong with those for whom facts remain just another issue to ignore. Arguing nonsense for reasons that remain entirely unclear to me is a curious phenomenon of our political and energy discourses. The International Energy Agency has now issued its stamp of acknowledgment that we actually passed peak production in oil back in 2006. Given that, one would think that since one of this planet’s most important energy and oil production organizations is now on board, perhaps the deniers might consider devoting their considerable efforts to helping us figure out what comes next instead of engaging in cherry-picking and smokescreening.

Disingenuous arguments seem to serve no legitimate purpose if one assumes that sharing information is designed to … inform! And denying peak oil does not imbue anyone with Peak Oil-impervious safety shields; deniers will be obliged to endure the same consequences as the rest of us.

Robin Mills enjoys some measure of prominence in the peak oil world. A published author (The Myth of the Oil Crisis: Overcoming the Challenges of Depletion, Geopolitics, and Global Warming), and energy economist, Mr. Mills recently posted an article in The National, a major English language publication in the Middle East. In it, Mr. Mills again disputes that we are in a world where oil production has now reached its zenith, and argues instead that peak demand will prove to be more of an energy issue in the years to come.

Taking the same tiresome tack that others have, Mr. Mills makes note of the fact that past forecasts of peak oil have been wrong, and so therefore current predictions (citing Sir Richard Branson’s position, for one) are likewise just more doom-and-gloom foolishness. Curiously however, he cites Shell geologist M. King Hubbard’s 1956 prediction that peak would be reached around the year 2000. For someone making that kind of prediction almost half a century in advance, turns out he was pretty close, so I’m not sure why anyone would still be scoffing at that prediction given what has now been confirmed by the IEA! Mr. Mills fails to note that Dr. Hubbard also predicted U.S. peak production would occur in 1970. Bingo!

Mills then states:

“But the current generation of doomsayers, often not oil professionals, have neither addressed reasons for so many incorrect predictions of apocalypse, nor explained why this time their warnings are any more credible.”

Seriously? I’m pretty much a nobody in the Peak Oil world (definitely not an oil professional, duly acknowledged) yet I’ve managed to come up with a pretty fair amount of information supporting the facts of and about our looming oil crisis—easily obtainable, by the way, (and from quite legitimate sources)—and I’ve got about 80 blog posts behind this one to provide some of that credibility he finds lacking … damned facts screwing things up again! Sprinkled amid my “Daily Review” blogroll on the home page are some other quite serious and credible authorities on the subject, if my work won’t suffice. It’s not a difficult undertaking to find the facts.

For some reason, the “giant” oil finds in recent years off the coast of Brazil appear to be one of the Holy Grails of peak oil denial. Mills cites “5 billion barrels or more of reserves” in the Tupi field, at just $14.00 per barrel (his statement) as evidence of “easy oil”, which at this point is neither here nor there. Most of what’s being explored or produced is by no definition “easy”, so claims about a field that’s easily accessible and inexpensive to produce is not the be all and end all. Oh, and by the way, Tupi lies more than a mile below the ocean surface, and then another 3 miles or so below sand, rocks, and salt deposits. Piece of cake! This is where oil exploration is taking place. Easy? Seriously?

And in a world that uses 30 billion barrels of oil per year, one 5 billion barrel field is …. well, pretty ho-hum. Better than a stick in the eye, but this is supposed to serve as a prime argument for the deniers? Really?

He then adds:

“Meanwhile, new technology and investment-friendly policies in mature oil producers such as Oman and Colombia have reversed apparently terminal decline.”

I guess this is also supposed to throw a cold, wet blanket over the arguments (and facts) favoring Peak Oil, but seriously … Oman and Columbia? It took close to 60 seconds for me to Google the oil production levels of those two countries, and according to our own Energy Information Administration (U.S. Department of Energy), Oman produced just over 800,000 barrels of oil per day last year (approx 300 million barrels in 2009). Columbia managed about 250 million barrels in 2009.

On a planet that uses approximately 80 million barrels of oil per day, Oman and Columbia provided Planet Earth with about a week’s worth of oil. Hallelujah! Our oil problems are over! (As an aside, a day or two after Mr. Mills’s article, this piece indicated that Oman is expected to reach 1 million barrels of oil per day in production by 2015. Good to know that in about 4 years, we’ll add to our annual supply almost enough oil to get us through one late lunch.)

Forgive me, but I can’t find much solace in Oman’s and Columbia’s efforts. This doesn’t help (in a story about enhanced oil recovery efforts in the Middle East):

“[T]he International Energy Agency estimates that oil production from currently exploited sites will decline by two-thirds by 2030. This means that nearly 50 million barrels of oil production per day will need to be made up for….” [1]

Nor does this:

“…conventional oil reserves are being depleted throughout the world at twice the rate of their replacement, historically slow annual capacity declines from major oil fields are being replaced by rapid declines from significantly smaller new developments, and finally marginal new reserves such as arctic and deep water oil accumulations require inordinate new technology advancements and massive funding in order to be brought on-stream in adequate volumes as affordable costs.” [2]

Not to pick on Mills too much longer, but his article also suggests that “Unconventional oil output, such as that from fractured shale rocks in the US and the sticky bitumen from Canada’s famous oil sands, inches up remorselessly. Frontier exploration has uncovered large fields in Africa and holds promise in new areas, such as Greenland.” Like most others who tout shale and the environmentally destructive tar sands of Canada as yet another grand solution, no mention is made of what is required to extract, refine, and produce these inferior quality fossil fuel substitutes. That information tends to diminish the appeal of unconventional resources. But why let facts get in the way?

How many barrels of oil can we expect from a “holds promise”? Perhaps it’s just me, but I’m not finding a happy place thinking about oil goop inching up “remorselessly.”

Also worth noting that the now infamous WikiLeaks scandal disclosed some comments from government officials about those tar sands:

“[T]he Obama administration is aware of how destructive tar sands oil is — and plans on moving ahead with the pipeline that will pump it across the US regardless.

“The cable makes it clear that both Canada and the United States are aware of the dreadful impact of the Alberta tar sands — roundly dubbed the ‘most destructive project on earth’. Yet, the public statements from both parties differ significantly from the private cables.” [3]

Oops!

And as the final coup de grace to Sir Richard Branson’s concerns about an imminent “oil crunch”, Mills asserts that there are “credible scenarios for significant growth in supply.” Probably ran out of space before he could explain anything about what that means, but “credible scenarios” sure sound good to me! There are also credible scenarios for my finding buried treasure in my back yard, but I’m not at liberty to explain.

Another recent blog post offered this:

“Must be time to update my semi-regular ‘peak oil is stupid’ rant. So here goes…

“I don’t care when oil (OR COAL) peaks, I care when we run out, which we won’t because, as production declines, prices WILL rise. As prices rise, people WILL figure out alternatives. They might not be happy alternatives. They might not be as productive alternatives. They might not support the same lifestyle to which we are accustomed. But there WILL be alternatives, forced by higher prices–and no other mechanism is that powerful.” [4]

Having read a fair amount on this subject over the past couple of years, I’m all for easy, simple, obvious, quick, inexpensive solutions that will allow me and everyone else to get our financial feet back underneath us and then proceed merrily along without worrying about energy or lifestyles or where I live or how I live or what I drive or what I own or what I use or anything else in my life that is impacted in some manner by oil. (Come to think of it, that would cover just about everything, but let’s not worry about that now.)

This cornucopian view that somehow, magic technology is somehow going to ride to the rescue and supplant the oil-based energy needed for production, delivery, and consumption of goods (i.e., almost everything we use) with some other alternative just because the price of oil has risen too high is an exercise in hope which at my most optimistic I cannot fathom! (In the interests of accuracy and fairness, and since I am entirely unfamiliar with that author, who prefaced his comments by stating that it was time for some “snark”, he may have been yanking his readers’ chains. However, his statement relying on pricing as the trigger to implement a non-existent Plan B for energy supplies is a common argument by those who think that basic market and economic fundamentals are going to save the day.)

In last Monday’s post, I provided a very short list of goods that are in some manner dependent on fossil fuels for their very existence. There are thousands more, and there are almost no aspects of our infrastructure (roads, bridges, train tracks, water and sewer pipes, power lines, etc.) that are not likewise dependent on fossil fuels for their production, delivery, use, or maintenance. We’re talking about years’ or decades’ worth of design and testing and marketing and feasibility studies and modifications and re-design and on and on and on, and for the simple expediency of higher oil prices we’ll just instantly transform everything over to some as-yet-undefined-and-untested-and-even-unknown “alternative”? Seriously? We’re just going to “figure out alternatives” just like that? Might there be a bump or two along the way? I’m thinkin’ that’s gonna be at least a couple weeks o’ work. Ya think?

“[T]he cold, hard, inconvenient truth is that trillions of dollars have been invested in the existing energy infrastructure, which provides consumers with electricity, gasoline, jet fuel, and myriad other commodities. Changing that infrastructure—nearly all of which has been built upon fossil fuels—to a system based on renewable and alternative energy will take decades.” [5]

A fact or two that just might be worth contemplating … if you happen to be one of those people for whom facts matter, that is.

Peak Oil Matters



3 Comments on "The Stubbornness Of Denial"

  1. prof baldwin on Tue, 21st Dec 2010 1:14 am 

    It is doomer, can’t do, articles like this which are bringing our great nation down.

    There really should be laws banning dangerous economic talk like this – these false negative sentiments could derail the economic recovery, which is probably what these freedom hating doomers want all along, to derail Obama’s election chances in 2012. Notice in the press how they keep issuing oil pricing forecasts for 2012 – how the peak oil conspiracy is taking shame.

    Even if these fantasy statements here were true, we have plenty of oil we can seize. Great Britain with it’s North Sea, held back by inferior technology and lack on investment over the years, would be better run in US hands. The special arrangement with that country makes them a soft touch for regime change.

  2. Bor on Tue, 21st Dec 2010 11:39 am 

    Dear Prof. Baldwin,
    I suggest to prohibit Peak Oil all together. There should be no Peak Oil. Or any Peak of anything for this matter. Let’s consider a Peak a federal offense.
    Shoot those doomers and send their families to Gulag. Period! No problem anymore.

  3. jmnemonic on Tue, 21st Dec 2010 11:42 pm 

    Yeah, shoot everyone at the IEA who mentioned oil production has peaked. Telling us the truth? (Albeit with overly rose-colored glasses.) They should be shot for that!

    And sure, we can use our oil-dependent military to go take resources away from others. In fact, during times of resource scarcity, that often happens. It’s called predatory militarism. Basically, it’s resource rape instead of physical rape. Is that our plan? I hope not.

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