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Peak Oil: No “Shock Moments”

General Ideas

There may never be a ‘shock moment’ of peak oil’s arrival; instead, peak oil may continue to play out as a gradual, unplanned transition to a new set of energy and consumption patterns that are less oil dependent, giving rise to social, economic, and ecological impacts that no one can predict with any certainty. [1]

A key focus among the several hundred blog posts here has been my expression of concern that we’ve done almost no planning and very little preparation to deal with the consequences and challenges of peak oil.

As Dr. Samuel Alexander noted in another of his well-considered reports on the topic, we’re not all going to awaken one morning to the Breaking News that peak oil has arrived. There will be several reasons for the absence of that advisory, not the least of which is that peak oil—insofar as conventional crude oil production is concerned (the primary fossil fuel resource we’ve all been relying upon for many decades)—has been at an at-best plateau for nearly a decade now.

Recent surges in oil production here in the U.S. is a result of technological improvements in extracting “tight” oil from shale formations and the accompanying high prices needed to justify and sustain the efforts. It’s been a welcome development, to be sure. But as ample evidence demonstrates (the kind which uses facts in support, rather than a lot of “potential,” “could perhaps,” “provided that,” “if,” and assorted other qualifiers which diminish the intended certainty of rebuttals), those production efforts are not the answer.

High costs, more intensive energy requirements on the exploration and production side lessen the benefits, investments are no longer being offered quite so readily, growing public awareness of the environmental damage poses its own set of challenges, rapid decline rates from wells drilled in the best areas already, and assorted other concerns and conditions lead experts focused on the evidence and realities to conclude the benefits will be relatively short-lived. We won’t give them back, but to decide that no plans for transition away from fossil fuel dependency aren’t necessary will be a painful and long-lasting self-inflicted wound.

No reasonable person will dispute that what will be required is almost impossible to conceive at the moment. It’s never been done, and given modern society’s near-total dependency on fossil fuels to get us all from today to tomorrow, the scope is beyond the capacity for most of us to appreciate. Not doing anything/denying/ignoring certainly seems the much easier and wiser approach—at least right now.

But given the scope, we owe it to ourselves to allow for every opportunity to begin that complex and lengthy transition. So while today we may decide our plates are already too full or that others “in charge” will take the matter to heart, that’s guaranteed to just create more difficulties ahead.

Opportunities are there for the taking. Years from now, we’ll all be grateful for the collective wisdom we put into play today rather than waiting for a set of dominoes to complete their fall before deciding to cooperate, plan, and act.

Our children will be pleased with our foresight as well.

 – Peak Oil Matters

10 Comments on "Peak Oil: No “Shock Moments”"

  1. Davy, Hermann, MO on Mon, 28th Apr 2014 6:22 pm 

    Article said – There may never be a ‘shock moment’ of peak oil’s arrival; instead, peak oil may continue to play out as a gradual, unplanned transition to a new set of energy and consumption patterns

    I am of the opinion that we have had the gradual, unplanned transition now for around 10 years. During this time we also had the 2008 economic crisis. We currently have ominous clouds on the horizon in the near term for oil and gas above and below ground problems. These problems are a lack of supply and price pressures that are straining healthy growth needed by a society approaching and or in limits of growth. A society at or near overshoot to carrying capacity in respect to food/water/energy. We have a financial system that is in financial repression instead of a proper functioning market with normal price discovery. My thoughts are we will shortly enter a new more volatile and accelerated transition. The financial system is the most likely trigger but energy issues are very near risk source. Geopolitical black swans are ever present ghosts. I like to use the phase change of water as a mind’s eye illustration. It takes a great deal of time and energy to get water to change phase but when water changes phase it happens quickly. I feel we are near a period of catastrophic bifurcation where the system breaks to a lower level of complexity. I have no idea the extent of the drop. I hope we are lucky and the initial drop is relatively mild. We know the top down will not make changes to its belief system without crisis. Crisis is what galvanizes attention away from the normal distractions that prevent planning, cooperation, and meaningful action. We may be too far gone for even this wishful thinking. I am a “doomer” but I do have hope for the above. I have not yet given up hope. I am dancing at the edge of the cliff though.

  2. rockman on Mon, 28th Apr 2014 6:47 pm 

    “…peak oil may continue to play out as a gradual…transition to a new set of energy and consumption patterns that are less oil dependent”. I gather we all have different concepts of what “gradual” means. In just ten years oil prices jumped more than 300%. US citizens saw the annual oil bill rise from $225 billion to almost $650 billion. I don’t consider that to be a gradual change. US oil consumption has not decreased because we’ve become less dependent on oil…it’s simply a matter of not being able to afford what we want.

    “…we’re not all going to awaken one morning to the Breaking News that peak oil has arrived.” That may be true given we’ve already reached global PO with so few folks recognizing it. And by GPO I’m not referring to some date on a calendar that not the least bit relevant IMHO. Heck, in retrospect we might look back and see the year we hit GPO as having relatively low oil prices. It should be obvious that the max oil rate the world can produce is one of the least important factors affecting price. In 2003 oil was selling for $30/bbl, 5 years later $145/bbl, a year later $80/bbl and the a couple of years later holding around $100/bbl. Given that the world is currently producing more oil then ever before we didn’t hit GPO during the last 10 years.

    When I say we’ve hit GPO I’m talking about the dynamics of supply and demand and not some meaningless date. Oil prices didn’t fall from $145 to $80 because we suddenly began producing a lot more oil. In fact, global oil production dropped almost 2%. And the GPO date didn’t happen a couple of years ago (despite prices reaching an all time yearly high average) as witnessed by the current higher global production rate.

    So needless to say reacting to “peak oil” should have begun years ago IMHO because that’s when we started slamming ourselves against the PO brick wall.

  3. Northwest Resident on Mon, 28th Apr 2014 9:22 pm 

    Peak oil in the purest sense I believe applies only to conventional crude, and conventional crude worldwide is already in decline, more so for some countries than others, but the trend is clear. There aren’t anymore big conventional oil fields waiting to be discovered that will replace the ones that have been driving the global economy these many years, and the ones that are already in production are close to pumping flat out. Now, with excessively high price per barrel, the oil industry has managed to throw a lot of frac’d “oil” into the total production, and that is the ONLY thing that has prevented widespread recognition that we are AT peak oil, or beyond. But that high price for frac’d oil is also dragging the global economy to its knees. The only way the global economy is able to remain functional is by the massive infusion of fiat being pumped into the economy’s veins like a drug into a dying patient’s veins. We are past peak oil, fracking and all manner of financial fraud and skullduggery obscure that fact and buy time, but not for much longer. There WAS a “shock moment” — it came in 2008 or so, and we are now living it, aware or unaware to differing degrees that we are on the downhill slide right now that peak oil predicted. But don’t worry — there will be more “shock moments”, that much is certain. Like Davy says, “we will shortly enter a new more volatile and accelerated transition.” Just wait and see.

  4. pat on Tue, 29th Apr 2014 12:23 am 

    the crisis of peak oil is so huge and the impacts are just too big to even comprehend. the total collapse with just the signs of rising peak oil and oil shortages as early as 2015.

  5. meld on Tue, 29th Apr 2014 7:34 am 

    I’ll take that bet pat, I bet you my posting rights that we’ll still be here posting in 2016

  6. shortonoil on Tue, 29th Apr 2014 8:49 am 

    The “shock moment” will be a physiological moment. It will be the point in time when the industry, and the public comes to the awareness that the day has arrived when petroleum no longer will be driving the world’s economic growth. That the future will no longer come with a guarantee that says tomorrow will always be better than today. In reality that day has already arrived. Petroleum will never again be able to deliver more energy than it takes to produce it. The benefit of extracting additional petroleum will never again outweigh its cost of production.

    The industry has already gotten its first wake up call. EXXON, Shell and Chevron in an effort to increase production in 2013 spent $130 billion. Their production fell! The miracle of shale has turned into a tread mill that forever runs backwards just a little bit faster than the industry can rush forward. Average well production falls every year no matter how much drilling is accomplished. Depletion has marched forward past the point of no return. Economies will whither, and sovereign states will die.

    The Laws of physics tell us that the “moment” is here. Only “content” will tell us when the “shock” has arrived.

  7. Northwest Resident on Tue, 29th Apr 2014 9:57 am 

    Meld — That’s a bold bet, especially considering that if pat’s predictions are correct, you (and everybody) will probably lose their “posting rights” on this and all other sites anyway.

    In any case, I don’t read where pat is predicting a total collapse IN 2015, just beginning (in earnest?) in 2015 — same as the U.S. Military and many other authoritative sources have predicted. We’re ALREADY at peak oil — just too doped up on fracked oil/NG and QE cash infusions to recognize it. But the effects of fracking and QE are losing their potency rapidly. Soon enough, probably in or before 2015, true shock will come in the form of energy shortages that cannot be swept under the rug. That shock could easily be enough to knock the global economy house of cards down, at which point the final phase of “total collapse” will be well underway.

  8. rockman on Tue, 29th Apr 2014 11:15 am 

    “…the signs of rising peak oil and oil shortages as early as 2015.” Here’s the problem with that bet boys: define shortage. I’m make an even bolder statement: there won’t be an “oil shortage” for many years or even decades: everyone that can afford the price of oil at the time will have all they want available to them.

    Or switch it around – there has been an oil shortage since the beginning of the oil age: there has always been a shortage of oil that everyone could afford.

    IOW with the world currently producing more oil then ever before is there a shortage now? Are any global consumers unable to buy the oil their economy requires? Yes, there are. Are there US consumers/businesses unable to buy the oil they want? Yes, there are. Both groups are composed of everyone unable to afford the current price of oil’

    So if you can’t agree on whether there’s an “oil shortage” today or not how will you settle the bet post 2015?

  9. Northwest Resident on Tue, 29th Apr 2014 11:32 am 

    rockman — Excellent point and analysis as usual. But “what if” the price of oil rises to the point that a good percentage (10% for example) of those Americans still “gainfully” employed can no longer afford to gas up and drive to work? And at the same time, that ultra-high price of oil puts fast food and other companies out of business and shuts down mainstream businesses that lose customers who can no longer afford their products?

    Sure, there is no “shortage” of oil technically speaking because at that extremely high price supply will still meet “demand”. The actual “shortage” is of affordable oil, with “affordable” also being a subjective term but in general meaning oil at a price that doesn’t upset the fragile status quo any more than it has already been hammered by rising oil prices.

    In reality, when we talk of oil shortages, aren’t we talking about shortages of that subjectively priced “affordable” oil?

  10. J-Gav on Tue, 29th Apr 2014 4:30 pm 

    Oh yeah, more likely to be a bumpy plateau than a sudden drop-off next year. We’re already on it, though the bumpiness is now in an “up” phase thanks to unconventionals. At some point, however, the decline is bound to become more pronounced, such that even the neuron-deficient elements of society will take notice. Trying to keep things on an even keel looks to be a major challenge for any and all prospective candidates for ‘leadership’ in the coming years. If you think about it, it’s clearly pathological to pursue such an ambition in the present context.

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