Peak Oil is You

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Page added on November 11, 2017

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What happens when the drilling is done?


A seismic shift

It seems like we’ve been talking about “peak oil” for a long time, but the meaning has shifted radically in the last few years.

Historically the phrase referred to the hypothetical point in time when the world’s oil production would hit its maximum. It became famous in the 1970s, when we feared there may not be enough black gold underground to fuel our cars and economies.

Four decades later, the phrase is making a comeback—but it’s now about moving toward a solar-powered, electric car future that won’t require such vast amounts of fossil fuels.

That transition could prevent catastrophic climate change, if it happens quickly enough, but it will also profoundly reshape the global economy.

In essence, the topic has changed from geology—how long can we drill oil in a cost-effective way—to figuring out what happens to our economies when we don’t have to drill anymore.


600,000: Number of active oil wells in the United States.

96 million barrels: The global daily demand for oil in 2016, according to the International Energy Agency. (That’s about 45 billion Coke cans full of oil.)

8,400 sq. km: Size of the Ghawar oilfield in Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest, equal to the size of five Londons.

400%: Increase in the price of oil—from $3 per barrel to $12 per barrel—that caused the 1973 oil crisis, which made the US rethink its energy policy.

3%: Proportion of $100 billion in combined annual spending by the five biggest oil firms that goes to renewable power projects.


Which industries consume the most oil?

Nearly half the world’s oil is burned on roads, and almost half of that is spent on moving stuff, rather than people.

So it’s not a surprise that the main driver (so to speak!) of peak oil demand is the rise of electric cars. Electric vehicles are getting cheaper, batteries are lasting longer, and charging stations are becoming ubiquitous. And countries around the world—including the UK, Norway, France, Netherlands, India, and especially China—are subsidizing electric vehicles and setting dates for banning gas guzzlers.


The first mention of peak oil

The earliest worries about peak oil production appeared in 1918, in a Tractor and Gas Engine Review article titled “Petroleum consumption enormous.” The article quotes the then-president of the Colorado School of Mines saying: “The average middle-aged man of today will live to see the virtual exhaustion of the world’s supply of oil wells.”

Those fears didn’t materialize. But in 1956, American geologist Marion King Hubbert, who worked for Shell, showed that the world’s oil production will follow a bell curve. He predicted that the world hit peak oil between 1965 and 1970. He was criticized for his methods, until the oil crisis of 1973 redeemed him. Later, after he admitted some mistakes, he revised the peak oil date to 1995.

Even that, however, wasn’t correct—due in part to new technologies like hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking.


So when will the world hit peak oil?

No one can predict peak oil with any certainty—but that doesn’t mean predictions are not valuable. Trillions of dollars of investments, largely from pension funds, rely on understanding how soon the world will start weaning off oil. Here are Big Oil’s predictions:

  • 2022 – Royal Dutch Shell
  • 2030 – France’s Total and Norway’s Statoil
  • 2040 – Britain’s BP
  • Not in sight – ExxonMobil, Chevron, Saudi Aramco

Many experts agree with the “not in sight” scenario. “Based on what we know now, we would need major technological breakthroughs or weak world growth, including for large emerging and developing economies, for oil demand to peak in the next 20 years,” said Gian Maria Milesi-Ferretti, deputy director of the International Monetary Fund’s research department, told Axios.

As Reuters reported this week, BP is scaling back the investments it had made in renewable energy and many big oil firms say they’re just as confident as ever.


Drill, baby, drill

The most optimistic prediction of peak oil was made by Abdullah Jum’ah, the former CEO of Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company. “I do not believe the world has to worry about ‘peak oil’ for a very long time,” he said in 2008. His calculations suggested that by then we had extracted only 1.1 trillion barrels of conventional and non-conventional oil out of a total of 16 trillion barrels. His successor, Amin Nasser, has doubled down on the claim, saying earlier this year that it is “misleading” to think oil demand is nearing its peak.

The optimism may be explained by what’s happening with Saudi Aramco. The world’s largest privately owned company—valued between $1 trillion and $2 trillion—is in the midst of preparing for an IPO. US president Donald Trump recently made a pitch that Aramco should list on a US stock exchange. At the same time, however, the IPO is part of a grand scheme to diversify Saudi Arabia’s portfolio. Even if the company doesn’t believe that peak oil is coming soon, it knows that oil money will keep it going only for so long.


Which of these countries did not hit peak oil production in 1970?

Correct. Nigeria hit peak oil production in 1979.
Incorrect. This is not your cup of Texas tea.
If your inbox doesn’t support this quiz, find the solution at bottom of email.

We need Big Oil on our side

No matter where oil companies stood on climate change in the past, they are almost all united today and agree that cutting carbon emissions is necessary. The stance, however, goes directly against their business model of selling more oil. Unless, that is, they also find ways of burning fossil fuels without emissions.

Enter carbon-capture technology. Some of the world’s biggest companies have come together to spend $1 billion to make it a reality. Though in commercial use since the 1970s, the technology has remained expensive and faces a huge public-relations challenge. Environmental groups loathe it because it extends the use of fossil fuels. Politicians find it to be a hard sell: There is no shiny solar panel or wind turbine to show for it.

But as the world gets closer to overshooting on its climate goals, carbon capture technology will be absolutely crucial to ensure that the global average temperature doesn’t rise above the dangerous 2°C threshold. And we will probably need to work with oil companies who have the money and knowledge to help deploy the technology at scale.

In 2013, The Atlantic’s Charles C. Mann explored the world-changing repercussions of Winston Churchill’s decision to switch the British Navy’s fuel source from coal to oil.

“New technology and a little-known energy source suggest that fossil fuels may not be finite,” he writes. “This would be a miracle—and a nightmare.”


Peak nodding donkey

Quartz recently visited China’s second largest oilfield near Dongying, south of the capital Beijing. Amid well-kept farms and sturdy cattle, every few hundred meters out popped a familiar symbol of the oil age: a nodding donkey (also called pumpjacks). The pumps work day in and day out, sucking up between 3 barrels and 3,000 barrels a day, depending on a range of factors including the age of the oilfield and size of the pumpjack.

Peak oil means peak nodding donkey. But there’s no end in sight—GE purchased the pumpjack maker Luftkin Industries for $3.3 billion. Pumpjacks are so widely used that NPR once called them “the American symbol of life in the oil patch.” An NPR correspondent asked a pumpjack operator what he thinks of when he hears one running: “That’s the sound of making money,” he said.


Wackiest idea of them all

The prize for the most extreme prediction for peak oil goes to… Thomas Gold. The Austrian-born astrophysicist at Cornell University believed oil doesn’t just have to come from organic matter—decaying plants and animals—but that it may also be created through inorganic means, as the carbon in the Earth’s core is somehow transmuted by heat and pressure into oil. This theory is called the abiogenic origin of petroleum. If true, it means oil is not a limited fossil fuel but a continually renewing abiotic product.

There are many known chemical reactions that could be used to create synthetic oil. But there is no evidence that nature creates oil from inorganic matter. That doesn’t necessarily mean abiogenic petroleum can’t exist…just that we haven’t found it yet.


28 Comments on "What happens when the drilling is done?"

  1. Cloggie on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 5:26 am 

    Peakoil is no longer relevant as there is enough combustable crap in the earth crust that can be exploited for centuries to come. The overarching bottleneck is climate change and polution. The central task of this generation is to build a new renewable energy base in the hope that damage can be limited. No guarantees but is the only rational way forward.

  2. makati1 on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 5:40 am 

    Cloggie, rational, yes, but possible? I doubt it. Why? I don’t see a financial system rising from the coming crash that will make it possible. Survival is the name of the game after, I think. I hope I am wrong, but…

  3. Davy on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 6:00 am 

    “The overarching bottleneck is climate change and polution. “Peakoil is no longer relevant as there is enough combustable crap in the earth crust that can be exploited for centuries to come.”
    Peak oil dynamics are alive and well. These forces don’t sleep and they get worse incrementally daily. The biggest factor as time passes is affordability. This will be seen in a variety of ways from price to availability. Important oil nations are failing. We are all well aware conventional oil has peaked. Unconventionals lack many important characteristics of past conventional sources. There is a price to pay for these alternative. They are not free. Add this cost into all the other cost society is facing and you see peak oil dynamics is real. Projects are not happening like they should be is a profound challenge. Sure US shale can fire up quickly but not enough to make a difference on absolute volumes just price swings. The amount of discoveries pales in the face of long term demand.
    Renewables are a pipe dream. They are a guarantee to be a welcome extender of our safety and security of modernism but only to a point. They are unproven as an energy transition possibility. The scale of the transition is so huge as to be fantasy. There is little that indicates a dent in fossil fuel demand currently. We are seeing some electricity generation inroads but little in the way of transport. Much of the heavy lifting in the effort to reduce coal has been done by natural gas. All renewables have done to date is compliment energy growth with a small reduction in fossil fuels. There has yet to be a significant marked reduction in fossil fuels of all types that can be contributed solely to renewables. Renewables have just assisted growth and reduced fossil fuel growth not terminated fossil fuel growth.

    “The central task of this generation is to build a new renewable energy base in the hope that damage can be limited. No guarantees but is the only rational way forward.”
    Renewable energy is a rational way forward but this includes behavioral changes. It is not rational to say renewables are a way to transition away from fossil fuels and these behavioral changes not made. The only way renewables could ever work is draconian behavioral changes. Continued growth and existing excess affluence would have to be greatly reduced. So many poor behaviors and lifestyles terminated. Instead we have the typical techno optimist talk about “cake and eating it” strategies. “You can have it all” says the techno optimist. No need to sacrifice and “we are moving ahead so be optimistic” is all you hear. The reality is renewables have yet to be proven as the way to move the world beyond a quasi-fossil fuel renewable grid that involves heavy fossil fuel backup. IMA a very expensive grid. It is debatable how much energy will be saved unless real and effective storage strategies develop. Storage strategies are not scalable and affordable at the moment. At the moment we don’t even have a huge renewable base let alone the required huge storage base. This is all the reason the current techno optimist talk of the “only rational way forward” is just hopium talk unless this talk is clarified by sobriety and humility. Rational is real, possible, and workable not theoretical.

  4. Shortend on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 7:59 am 

    Drill, baby, Drill, damn the torpedoes and
    since January, the words “climate change” have been disappearing from government websites. It’s happened not just at the Environmental Protection Agency but also at the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Health and Human Services.

    In some cases, the removal of references to climate change is a political directive from new Trump appointees — what some scientists have described as censorship. In other cases, agency staffers are tweaking program names and language in internal documents to try to stay out of the crosshairs of their new bosses. In other words, out of sight, out of mind, and maybe out of range for budget cuts.

    While largely superficial, these changes in wording are symptomatic of broader shifts of the Trump era occurring within federal agencies that are trying to boost fossil fuels and roll back efforts to study, mitigate, and adapt to climate change.

    We have our heads where the sun don’t shine.

  5. onlooker on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 8:19 am 

    Makati is right. Once, the world financial system crashes, it is game over. The funny money QE printing has just about spent itself as witnessed by the absurd negative interest rates and the non responsive lethargic economy. Then, it gets serious

  6. Davy on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 8:33 am 

    “Makati is right. Once, the world financial system crashes, it is game over.”
    Mad kat is wrong because his idea of the financial system crashing is only the US system. He then goes on to say how Asia will be fine with Russia and China forging on over the ashes of a destroyed US. I find it crazy that you support this point of view. It is support from people like you that enable these lies to be perpetuated.

  7. onlooker on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 8:49 am 

    I have said that it is all interconnected. Remember, when I took your side that China and the US need each other. Also, that Mak has an agenda to portray everything related to the US as bad. So to be clear it will be a chain reaction and EVERYONE will be going down

  8. rockman on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 9:15 am 

    Under the current POTUS: Climate change…out of sight…out of mind? LMFAO! The subject is more prominent in the public’s “sight” then ever before. There is no censorship. That’s the good news. The bad news: it is just “out of the mind” of the public today as it was under President Obama. The consumers/voters DEMAND that the politicians make every effort to maintain BAU as close as possible. They’ll allow only a little (and generally ineffective) nibbling around the edges of reducing fossil fuel consumption. But they’ll allow all the RHETORIC the politicians want to spread.

    President Obama supported the Paris Accord at the same time he ordered his Corps of Engineers to permit 3 new coal oil export terminals on the west coast. He would not approve the border crossing portion of Keystone XL but at the same time he ordered all govt agencies to do what ever possible to expedite the completion of the southern leg of KXL. The portion of KXL that he declared was “vital to the American economy”. The portion of KXL that eliminated the choke point at Cushing and allowed the continuing expansion of the US import of the “dirtiest oil on the planet.” And without the northern section of KXL President Obama compensated by permitting the Dakota Access Pipe Line to carry Bakken oil that would have been carried by the Keystone system had he approved the border crossing permit.

    US consuming were fully accepting of President Obama’s speeches about protecting the climate. As long as his actions did not match his rhetoric.

  9. onlooker on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 9:53 am 

    I actually fully agree with Rockman. In the final analysis those consumers who could make a difference to the CO2 emissions trajectory ie. rich world citizens, are not REALLY interested in the actual changes that this would entail.

  10. fmr-paultard on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 10:38 am 

    aswang has no integrity whatsoever because he refuses to denounce murderer in chief duterte. there’s go fidelity and honesty and objectivivity. but we already know peddling fake news ZH is a mental sickness

  11. fmr-paultard on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 10:39 am 

    aswang fears denouncing murderer in chief would get him lead poisoning. there go phils justice system. think i’m gonna pack my bags and go to moscow. do the only accept cambridge Five? what about regular tard like myself?

  12. makati1 on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 10:52 am 

    fmr, obviously insanity runs in your family or are you just the lucky one with the problem. You have zero knowledge of the Ps. Only the warped propaganda you have been fed from birth … which must have only been a few years ago. Intelligence you do NOT have. lol.

  13. Davy on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 10:55 am 

    mad kat, hanging out in the westernized part of Makati, Manila does not constitute knowing the P’s or Asia for that matter. You are a FRAUD!

  14. makati1 on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 10:59 am 

    I love how anything you idiots (you know who you are) don’t like is considered “Fake News”, as if using that label does not make it true. Maybe you cannot handle the truth?

    Denial is a sign of the deep fear you have of the future you know is coming.

    You all deserve what is happening and what is coming to your closed, warped minds. Do be it.

  15. Davy on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 11:09 am 

    mad kat, it does not matter what kind of news it is once you get ahold of it. You turn all news into personal agenda speak that is unbalanced and warped by your emotional prejudices. FRAUD

  16. Apneaman on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 11:17 am 

    Shameless, bald faced liar rockman at it again.

    “There is no censorship”

    The Trump Administration Censors Climate Change Research as Hurricane Harvey Barrels Down on Texas

    “As another scientist who shared Bowen’s post on Twitter put it, this is a textbook case of censorship. Political operatives in the administration are attempting to police the work of nonpartisan academics to remove any references to “climate change” or “global warming.” Because if you never say the words, the things they describe will never appear. Like Beetlejuice.

    These aren’t exactly uncharted waters for the Trump administration. Earlier this month, it emerged that staffers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture were instructed to censor the terms “climate change,” “reduce greenhouse gasses,” “sequester carbon,” and “climate change adaptation” in their work. In March, Politico reported the Department of Energy’s international climate office had instructed staff not to use “climate change,” “emissions reduction,” or “Paris Agreement” in “memos, briefings, or other written communication.”

    And of course, the contemptible Scott Pruitt—the man tasked with destroying the Environmental Protection Agency from the inside—has enacted a policy of secrecy at that agency that wouldn’t be out of place at the CIA. The problem is so bad that scientists from 13 federal agencies preemptively leaked a terrifying report on the realities of man-made climate change, explicitly stating that they were concerned it would be censored by the administration.

    This all fits the mold for Republicans in general. After all, Vice President Dick Cheney and his operatives did plenty of meddling in climate research during the Bush administration. And the administration of Governor Rick Scott in Florida—a state in which the biggest city is already flooding at high tide—has long banned the use of certain terms, including “climate change.” Because again, if you don’t say the words, the problem doesn’t exist. It’s like playing hide and seek with a toddler. Just put your palms over your eyes and stand there while the water rises around your ankles.”

    Piece of shit

  17. Apneaman on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 11:26 am 

    Conservatives probably can’t be persuaded on climate change. So now what?

    One more round of “messaging” won’t do it.

    I read a guy on a blog who suggested that all deniers should be lined up and shot in the fucking head for the sake of national security and his kids future.

    I tried to think up a counter argument, but came up empty.

  18. MASTERMIND on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 11:31 am 

    Peak Oil and Peak Gas are passed…Decline is now….Kiss your ass goodbye soon

  19. Sissyfuss on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 11:45 am 

    There are two ls in pollution, Cllogee. Even frm knows that.

  20. Outcast_Searcher on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 12:15 pm 

    I thought this was a decent article / summary, overall. The main thing I disagreed with was the idea that EV charging stations are becoming “ubiquitous”. In the US, aside from Southern CA, they are being built out, gradually, but not even close to being anything remotely described as ubiquitous.

    In fact, for the US, one of the real world concerns of people wanting EV’s is whether as more people purchase EV’s, there will be enough charging stations to charge conveniently without having to perhaps wait in long lines.

    I look forward to the day when EV’s are popular enough that you see some charging stations in the majority (if not almost all) gas stations in the US. At THAT point (if this includes rural gas stations), then I’d heartily agree with saying that charging stations are getting to be “everywhere”.

    In the mean time, for most of us, if home charging isn’t available — that will be a potential real issue, if we want to purchase an EV.

  21. Outcast_Searcher on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 12:20 pm 

    Oh, and I should add that this is why I still think that HEV’s and PHEV’s make a LOT of sense re using far less gasoline, until EV charging is TRULY everywhere (so that the question of being able to charge conveniently is normally moot).

    Having a decent sized AGW tax on transport fuels would be a HUGE incentive to get people to spend the extra, say, $3000 to $5000 to get an HEV version of their next ICE car, and save perhaps $5000 every hundred thousand miles on gasoline.

    But good luck getting people in the US or the clowns they elect to look far enough ahead to see the wisdom of doing that because, for example, it doesn’t guarantee every other country will do it. **SIGH**

  22. Sissyfuss on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 12:22 pm 

    Our condition grows more Orwellian with each passing day and each click upward of the Keeling Curve. We must be forced off the path taken for we are incapable of willfully following a habitude of population reduction and resource frugality. Our dinosaur politicians will end up with the same fate as their distant antediluvian cousins unless we become the asteroid in their path. At this point most are to busy eating and procreating to bother. That will change.

  23. Apneaman on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 1:04 pm 

    Sissyfuss, the humans are a one way evolutionary traveler. A cancer. The evidence keeps piling up. Everywhere the humans go, death follows.

    Human arrivals wiped out the Caribbean’s giant ground sloths

  24. Cloggie on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 1:15 pm 

    “There are two ls in pollution, Cllogee. Even frm knows that.”

    That reminds of that Ukrainian counterfeiter Zlatan Cohen, who set himself to the task of counterfeiting a three-and-a-half million dollar bill. After one-and-a-half hard work Cohen proudly presented his work to his principal Luigi Peppone.

    Peppone simple replied: dollar with two ‘l’

  25. Apneaman on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 1:23 pm 

    clog there is still hope for you.

    Micropenis Enlarged with New Surgical Technique

    OK every one, let’s pass the hat and get clog a couple of inches.

  26. Go Speed Racer on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 3:22 pm 

    They burnt up so much garbage
    in New Delhi India, that United Airlines
    wont fly there anymore.

    The air is too dangerous for the pilots
    to fly safely. Could damage the equipment.
    Makes the stewardesses cough.

    Let’s ship lots and lots of garbage to
    India so they will set it on fire.
    That will make the pollution even thicker.

  27. Sissyfuss on Sat, 11th Nov 2017 10:59 pm 

    Hell Ape,I’ll give him ten but(heavy pun intended) you’ll have to lube him up real good first. Something with aloe and Cocoa BUTTer, (nother large pun.)

  28. Dredd on Sun, 12th Nov 2017 7:42 am 

    “What happens when the drilling is done?”

    You put away your liddle pistol (The Shapeshifters of Bullshitistan – 12).

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