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Peak Oil: No Easy Solutions

Alternative Energy

Alternative energy depends heavily on engineered equipment and infrastructure for capture or conversion. However, the full supply chain for alternative energy, from raw materials to manufacturing, is still very dependent on fossil fuel energy.
[In the end, how can you get rid of fossil fuels when you need them to construct alternative energy resources?]….
The discussion is further complicated by political biases, ignorance of basic science, and a lack of appreciation of the magnitude of the problem facing societies accustomed to inexpensive fossil energy as the era of abundance concludes. [1]

I’ve consistently and repeatedly urged a greater awareness of the challenges diminishing supplies of oil and gas will impose upon all is. Political affiliations and stamp-your-feet-and-hold-your-breath resistance to the realities of finite, ever-harder to find and extract fossil fuel resources won’t help anyone.

Coupled with that awareness (dependent in no small part on a lot more honesty and full disclosure from industry and media officials who know—or damn well should—that energy independence and vast abundant whatevers are as fanciful as the Tooth Fairy) is the urgent need to start considering what’s involved in adaptation and transition to a society where the energy fueling everything we do and own and use is on an irreversible decline.

More information, more cooperation, and a genuine appreciation for what’s involved and what’s at stake—now—gives all of us a far better chance at cobbling together plans and policies before realistic options are swamped by the inevitability of peak oil. (That’s the problem with using a lot of a finite resource for a very long time for a lot of reasons and in a lot of ways … the once-ample supply becomes not so ample. Not so inexpensive, not so efficient, not so easy to acquire, too.)

We won’t run out, to be sure. But as these resources become that much more challenging to locate and extract, the supplies we’ve long taken for granted will reveal themselves to be precisely what they are: finite, with all the limitations and difficulties inherent in the depletion of the best and least expensive products.

But as the EnergySkeptic makes clear in her lengthy summary of David Fridley’s excellent report: Alternative Energy Challenges, simply planning for the transition away from fossil fuel dependency ain’t no piece o’ cake.

Not only must we contend with how to adapt our entire infrastructure to perpetuation without the very fossil fuel energy sources which enabled the development and utilization of that key industrial component; how do we address the issues of repair, upgrade, maintenance, development, etc., etc. without that same energy source? A more pointed inquiry: how do we first develop the alternative sources of energy to continue along when development and implementation of the various Plan B alternatives requires fossil fuels in the first instance?

Finite, depleting, more costly, less efficient resources have their limitations! How do we spread what’s left so as to fulfill so many current needs as well as development of so many replacements?

The plot thickens….Crisis? Opportunity?

Peak Oil Matters

28 Comments on "Peak Oil: No Easy Solutions"

  1. Arthur on Fri, 28th Mar 2014 2:29 pm 

    In the end, how can you get rid of fossil fuels when you need them to construct alternative energy resources?

    You don’t. Once you have a sufficient alternative energy base, that base can be used to regenerate itself.

    After all: 1 kwh = 1kwh, regardless of it’s source.

  2. rockman on Fri, 28th Mar 2014 2:33 pm 

    Not a bad piece IMHO other than the implication that while there are no easy solutions that there are some solutions at all. “Not only must we contend with how to adapt our entire infrastructure to perpetuation without the very fossil fuel energy sources which enabled the development and utilization of that key industrial component.”
    And that’s where I see the disconnect: hypothesizing that there is a way, albeit difficult, to ”perpetuate” the system. There are certainly some niche uses for the alts we have on the table today. But I can’t see any chance that we can duplicate the industrial revolution (especially on a global basis) in the future without energy sources on par both in availability and cost compared to what we’ve experienced with fossil fuels. It ain’t the end of the world. But it won’t be 1960 again. Not globally or even in the US IMHO.

    Again it’s a predicament…not a “problem” to be solved IMHO.

  3. Kenz300 on Fri, 28th Mar 2014 2:42 pm 

    Elon Musk Thoughts on transitioning to 100% renewable energy – YouTube

  4. Davy, Hermann, MO on Fri, 28th Mar 2014 2:47 pm 

    We have two “tooth fairy” believing groups. One is the lobby of plenty in industry and politics who believe in technology, knowledge, and substitution will allow industrial man to transcend his earthly limitations through free markets and business. The other is your status quo BAU environmentalist who believe as the lobby of plenty that we can use technology, knowledge and money to transition to a green economy where fossil fuels are phased out and eventually eliminate. Both have no clue where we will get the money. Both fail to accept systematic risks associated with the unintended consequences of their beliefs. One side believes accelerated development and growth will solve our problems when these are precisely the problems of a population in overshoot. The green folks fail to realize the unintended consequences of transitioning away from fossil fuels is most likely collapse. Both sides will make a credible effort from the top down difficult. What is needed can’t be solved from massive development by either altE or traditional brown tech growth oriented industry. Both need to be maintained within reason to avoid collapse. Collapse means nothing will get done and all may be lost. Simple, low tech, low cost AltE should be pursued as a fossil fuel booster so to speak. If we would admit to our energy predicament then we could do less with less and maybe come to terms with population overshoot. If nothing else quit the lying about the elephant in the room of overpopulation and overshoot of carrying capacity. In any case widespread acknowledgement that status quo is dated for traditional brown tech and green tech will lead to a loss of confidence which will destroy the financial and economic global system. ”SO”, maybe we should let the lies and distortions continue all the while we hope for as much bottom up, localized, sustainable, resilience, and simplicity oriented technology to coalesce into a buffet of plan B’s at the bottom. This information and knowledge will be spread through the internet and by likeminded individuals. There are many smart people out there that will see the writing on the wall and band together if in nothing else an acknowledgement of the truth of our human predicament. It is this common cause that will energize folks and give us hope in the face of death and destruction to take the steps to ensure at least something survives the coming decent.

  5. Northwest Resident on Fri, 28th Mar 2014 3:39 pm 

    “If we would admit to our energy predicament then we could do less with less and maybe come to terms with population overshoot.”

    I think the problem is that once political and business leaders “admit” that we have a severe energy predicament, then instant panic and economic collapse will immediately follow. This is analogous to a patient dying of cancer — the cancer is most definitely going to kill the patient but it will be a rather long drawn-out and painful death as he slides deeper and deeper into physical deterioration, or they can operate immediately to try to remove the cancer but that will most surely kill the patient on the operating table.

    Look, “THEY” knew we had a severe oil problem back in 1977 when Jimmy Carter laid it all out on the table in a public speech. THEY have known about it all along. The fact that there are NO large-scale government-driven plans to convert industry and society to lower-level energy use means that THEY have already decided (and probably long ago) that the best course of action is to just let this version of human civilization go over the cliff and start fresh with a dramatically reduced population. I don’t see any other logical way to look at it. Do you?

  6. The Universe on Fri, 28th Mar 2014 3:48 pm 


    What you’re suggesting is as possible as grabbing your own feet and lifting your self off the ground.

    Good luck.

  7. Nony on Fri, 28th Mar 2014 3:58 pm 

    I think there is a lot of oil, even a lot of cheap oil. Problem is that it is in OPEC. And they are an effective cartel.

  8. paulo1 on Fri, 28th Mar 2014 4:11 pm 


    I guess the expanding water cut and production of heavy sour in KSA is simply a strategy? There is a lot of oil left. It just isn’t that great or inexpensive. That, we pissed it away with commuting, Sunday drives, and generally unsustainable lifestyles.

    What a waste of a powerful resource. If we had only used it wisely it could have lasted for centuries with far less damage to our environment. Instead, we splurged and lived for the moment.


  9. GregT on Fri, 28th Mar 2014 4:31 pm 

    “After all: 1 kwh = 1kwh, regardless of it’s source.”

    Right. So PV panels and wind turbines CAN put a man on the moon then?

  10. GregT on Fri, 28th Mar 2014 5:03 pm 

    “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” Albert bartlett

    “Infinite exponential growth in a finite environment, is a mathematical and physical impossibility.” Me

    Growth in population, economics, and energy, are now all hitting the brick wall of environmental limits. The longer we continue to pursue growth, the more severe the repercussions will be for both human population, and the natural environment. We are too late for comfortable solutions.

  11. Nony on Fri, 28th Mar 2014 5:24 pm 


    The Simmons Twilight in the Desert predictions from 2005 of an imminent Saudi cliff-like drop look very silly in retrospect. Nine years later, we have SA humming along at ~10 million bpd (about their high point).

    This is the problem, peaksters start getting their ideology and social interactions integrated into these old memes and won’t face new data. Won’t even face being wrong on specific things like the Piccolo prediction. It’s OK, I guess, to have a warm place on the Internet to hang out with fellow-thinkers and chat with each other. But there’s a reason why TOD is dead. And that graphic of the decline in Google searches for “peak oil” is just stunning. You all definitely overplayed your hands in 2004-2008.

  12. GregT on Fri, 28th Mar 2014 6:19 pm 


    While sticking more straws into the glass does allow the drink to be consumed faster, it does not make the drink last longer.

    You are unable to see the forest through the trees. The fallout from the peak is all around us, it is global, and it is growing exponentially. You are choosing to be willfully ignorant. Ignorance may be bliss, but reality cannot be avoided forever.

    If you believe that following the herd is intelligent, than you must also believe that internet videos like Gangnam Style, are much more relevant than documentaries on Climate Change. The former received some 100 million ‘hits’ in a couple of weeks, while some very important documentaries have received as little as a few hundred ‘hits’ in 6 months.

    The average human being is really not that smart Nony. What should be ‘stunning’, is that you are putting your faith in them.

  13. Northwest Resident on Fri, 28th Mar 2014 6:19 pm 

    Nony — Fewer people are searching for “peak oil” on Google today because it is no longer a debate — Peak Oil IS here. It is only holdhouts like you and others who cling to any possible piece of information that might disprove the Peak Oil concept. You frequently point to incorrect predictions made many years ago as if that proves anything. It doesn’t.

    Another point on “peak oil” searches. You don’t have search for “peak oil” on the internet anymore. Everywhere a web surfer goes there are articles on peak oil, and most of them directly contradict what you’re trying to convince yourself of.

    Here’s one — read it and weep:

    bloomberg dot com/news/2014-02-27/dream-of-u-s-oil-independence-slams-against-shale-costs.html

  14. J-Gav on Fri, 28th Mar 2014 7:43 pm 

    The Universe – The classical reference is the Baron von Munchausen lifting himself (and his horse!) out of the quicksand by the hair on his scalp!

  15. rockman on Fri, 28th Mar 2014 8:01 pm 

    I’ll have to jump up and take an arrow for Nony on this one…kinda. There is a lot of “cheap oil” being produced not only in the KSA but in Texas also. I can point to wells in my field that are selling oil for $100/bbl and it’s only costing them $5/bbl to get it out the ground. Yes: they are producing brown stained water. LOL. And yes: an obscene profit and proud of it. LOL. But these are existing wells. Obviously there aren’t a lot of new wells being drilled with such a profit margin.

    I know one company that bought their 6,000 bopd production when oil was selling for $22/bbl. Imagine how happy they are today: didn’t have to drill a single well to get benefit from the oil price boom. They are making about $200 million/year more than they were when they bought those wells. And all they do is produce the wells with the lift systems that had already paid out when they bought the field. Essentially all they do is pay an electric bill every month and some field hands along with some periodic maintenance.

    Life can be so sweet in the oil patch if you just time it right. LOL.

  16. Nony on Fri, 28th Mar 2014 8:09 pm 


    If we had a price crash (say below 50), how much of the current US oil boom would shut off? Exploration? Development? Lift?

    And I’m not saying it will happen, but would it completely surprise you? Remember the bumper sticker about “Lord, Texas, five us one more boom and we won’t screw it up.” Make hay, man. 😉

  17. Nony on Fri, 28th Mar 2014 8:18 pm 

    NR: If the dropoff was happening as predicted (by most TODers) in 2005-2008, we would not have had that site closed. Would have read plenty of I told you so posts. And would have lots of active media discussion and google searches.

    Really, even if you think the country is screwed up and not “seeing the light”, you need to be in touch with what the common interest/belief is. Peak oil is passé:

  18. shortonoil on Fri, 28th Mar 2014 8:37 pm 

    As Mat Simmons said, “as Ghawar goes, so goes the world”. The Saudis are now horizontal drilling all over Northern Ghawar to suck the last few feet of oil off the top of their once 350 foot oil seam. The greatest field in the world is obviously in trouble. The entire petroleum industry is in trouble. According to calculations from our model between 2013 and 2014 (using EIA production data) total production costs for the industry including extraction, processing and distribution will increase by $260 billion. The following year will be more, and the year after that more still.

    What the author in the above article fails to incorporate is a time scale (probably for lack of a good verifiable mathematical model). Can we transition to a renewable source of energy? Possibly in fifty years? The problem is we don’t fifty years, we have about 15. The oil age will come to a quick conclusion when it arrives. If plan B is not well in place when that time comes, there won’t be an opportunity to discuss the matter, to say nothing of setting up a plan B.

  19. Northwest Resident on Fri, 28th Mar 2014 8:46 pm 

    “Peak oil is passé.”

    Except that conventional crude worldwide is in decline which is a given fact, and the only thing (barely) keeping production up and shortfalls from occuring is the unconventional oil, upon which you hang all your hopes and arguments, Nony. But nothing will dim your optimism and assuredness in believing shale oil is the wave of the future, will it? You always manage to find information that confirms what you want to believe, whether you interpret that information correctly or not. I look at a lot of the same information as you Nony, and come to exactly opposite conclusions. You say it would be “easy” for America to become an exporter of NG, I look at the same information and realize exactly why the real experts aren’t even trying to turn America into an NG net exporter. You’re on cloud #9 floating along peacefully into a fracked energy future, I’m building a food production center in my big back yard and stocking up for hard times. Let’s stay in touch and see how things go over the next year or two.

  20. Nony on Fri, 28th Mar 2014 8:57 pm 

    NR: The oil situation is much worse than the gas one. Remember the natural gas cliff cliff of crazy Matt Simmons?

    Seems pretty silly 10 years later, no?

    You got to be able to be eclectic. Don’t only vote for Republicans or for Democrats. Pick and choose. One of y’all peakers (some geologist analyst old guy from Shell or BP) even said that he thought shale oil did NOT have “legs” but that gas did.

  21. GregT on Fri, 28th Mar 2014 9:00 pm 


    Nony is not alone. One more reason to get out of largely populated areas ASAP. Optimism and assuredness will evaporate quickly and turn into anger, desperation, and violence, when reality finally sets in.

    “If plan B is not well in place when that time comes, there won’t be an opportunity to discuss the matter, to say nothing of setting up a plan B.”

    let’s just hope that, ‘that time comes’, later than sooner. The more time to get plan B in order, the better.

  22. Nony on Fri, 28th Mar 2014 9:01 pm 

    Here’s our old friend, Laherre:

    “Simply put, by 2010 Conventional Gas production can be half of what is today in North America, falling from 20 Tcf/a to 10 Tcf/a.”

    Looks really, really OFFFFF in retrospect.

  23. Nony on Fri, 28th Mar 2014 9:04 pm 

    Greg, I live in the city. Walking distance to the grocery, biking distance to the YMCA. Lots of coffeeshops, bars and restaurants right in blocks. I barely need a car. I probably drive a lot less than the average rural person.

  24. Northwest Resident on Fri, 28th Mar 2014 9:55 pm 

    Nony — That oildrum article was posted in 2006. The prediction may have been incorrect, but it was based on data available at the time. Since then, analysis techniques have greatly improved, information is much more available and accessible generally speaking.

    The fact that you attempt to comfort yourself and “prove” your point of view with inaccurate quotes and predictions from so many years ago just shows how WEAK your arguments are, Nony.

    What were YOU saying and thinking back in 2006? That we’d be running the world on natural gas by now and the economy would be on solid footing? Most likely…

  25. Nony on Fri, 28th Mar 2014 10:08 pm 

    Why hasn’t Rune printed a post following up on his Red Queen post, admitting it was wrong, why he misjudged, what he’s learned since and what he thinks now? Problem is not just some off predictions but that y’all are biased and are unwilling to face when you’re wrong. People still read that Red Queen thing and it is still linked to, despite being about 50% low on the peak for Bakken.

  26. Arthur on Sat, 29th Mar 2014 6:42 pm 

    @Universe: What you’re suggesting is as possible as grabbing your own feet and lifting your self off the ground.

    Over millions of years we had:

    Solar radiation –> photosynthesis –> biomass –> condensing –> fossil fuel –> turbines –> electricity

    Today we have, thanks to solid state technology:

    Solar radiation –> electricity

    Now, what part of “1 kwh = 1 kwh” do you not understand?

  27. Kenz300 on Sun, 30th Mar 2014 2:42 am 

    Wind, solar, wave energy, geothermal and second generation biofuels made from algae, cellulose and waste are the future.

    The old fossil fuel industries will go kicking and screaming into the future…….. but they will go as cheaper, cleaner and safer alternatives continue to replace them.

    NRDC: The Cost of Climate Change

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