2076: Peak Oil Odyssey?

I love books about dystopias, apocalypses, and world-endings. Parable of the Talents, Y: The Last Man, World War Z, The Dark Tower series…and that’s just off the top of my head. Maybe I like being scared, or maybe I like having my bad attitude about human nature confirmed. But I’m not really worried about most of scenarios for world-ending – I don’t think a plague will kill all the men, we don’t have super-intelligent robots who look just like us, and there are no zombies – yet. (But if there are zombies, Eric and I are SO on top of it. We have a zombie invasion plan that’s way more detailed than our earthquake/fire/hurricane plan. What? What’s wrong with that? )

But there is one dystopia mechanism that may hold some water – Peak Oil. Peak Oil is

the idea, invented by geophysicist King Hubbert in 1956, that oil production follows a bell-shaped curve. Based on observing the rise and fall of the Texas oil fields, Hubbert argued that every oil field has a peak rate of extraction. Once past the peak, oil becomes more and more expensive to extract from the ground, and production falls.

So why is this an apocalypse scenario? Advocates of the oil peak argue that world demand for fossil fuels is growing, but production is stagnating. Therefore, according the laws of supply and demand, the price for oil must rise. They argue that high oil prices could lead to everything from recession (probably) to total societal breakdown (well, these guys are a little overwrought). Critics say this rise in price will not happen because newer, more efficient ways of extracting oil are being found, but there sure is a lot of existing data that follows a peak-shaped pattern.

We may already be very close to the top of the curve. According to Dave Rutledge, an engineer at Caltec, if we continue extraction at this rate, 90% of the world’s fossil fuel resources will be exhausted by 2076. We do seem to be terrifyingly on track – Salon reports that this year is the first year that world oil production declined since 1984-85.

Keep in mind that it’s not just gas prices that rise – we use oil for everything from fertilizers to plastics. And according to a talk I went to by the director of the Port of Los Angeles, the entire West Coast only has a 5 day supply for the refineries. If no oil tankers come in, the West Coast shuts down in 5 days! So, unless we all get eaten by zombies first, we’ve really got to find a better way of doing things.

In the next installment (whenever I feel like writing it), I’ll tell you why ethanol is a boondoggle and why biofuels won’t save us.

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10 Responses to 2076: Peak Oil Odyssey?

  1. J says:

    I was reading an article yesterday (don’t remember where, didn’t check the author out at all) that talked about how the war in Iraq is basically a way to install a permanent military presence there to protect American oil companies’ new drilling operations. Iraq’s oil is relatively untapped because the country had not invested in it well, so Iraq, relatively speaking, apparently has tons of easily accessible oil.

    Not that we should keep using oil, etc. at the rate we do, but…

  2. I wish I found this shocking, but I don’t. Nonetheless, it doesn’t seem like the US is able to protect anything over there very well, so I’m not sure it was a successful strategy.

  3. […] cars, or how I learned to love the oil peak Miriam waxed terrified about the oil peak a couple of days ago, and I have to explain why I’m not worried. Because […]

  4. Stu says:

    I predict that oil will rise too about $200 per barrel by 2010. Yes I know it’s fallen recently, so what, it didn’t fall because they found any new significant oil fields, they didn’t, it fell because of recession destroying demand. Ok, so if I’m right, and I am, we are looking at about 5 times the price of oil now. What will petrol cost is the first thing people think of, and the only thing most think of. Here in Oz it will be approx 2 bucks a litre. So, people are thinking, shit…….but it’s not the end of the world, I’ll get a more economical car, drive to the min, essential trips only, etc etc……civilisation can still survive…….yeah, if it weren’t for the fact that this isn’t just about petrol. Every plastic item is procuced from oil…….pesticides stop plagues of insects eating our crops, fertilizers boost yields to triple what is possible in nature…….transport and storage of food……shipping…..air travel…….even items manufactured without an oil component (very few) use oil, in the machinery…..in the energy they use…..every single thing is going to cost more. At $200 per barrel…….we are in depression….not resession……..depression. And it doesn’t stop there……..it gets worse……because the decline will not stop…..it continues……and gets gradually steeper. And how can we build all that alternative energy infrastructure to replace oil driven economy when we are in a state of depression…..we can’t. We should have been preparing for this seriously 20 years ago………too late now. You think your neighbors have been pains in the arse…..complaining about your dog and stuff like that………not too many years down the line……..you will be fighting with your neighbor about who is going to eat the dog.

  5. Stu says:

    Oh, thats if the dog, and the packs of dogs that have not been fed for ages……have not eaten you and your neighbor………and if your dog has already been eaten…..be prepared for humans that will come……..to eat you

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