Peak Oil: Myth, Reality, & Response

People often believe what they want to believe, regardless of facts and reality. I have been guilty of this in the past and so have you. The effects of wrong thinking, based on ignorance or misinformation can be minor and harmless, or significant and downright dangerous. This is true for individuals, families, communities, and nations.

Peak Oil is one of those significant and downright dangerous things that so few people in this country understand or, upon hearing of it, want to believe.

Much of the small talk around the proverbial water cooler at my workplace is about the high price of gasoline. People blame the high prices on greedy oil companies. They blame the high prices on George Bush. I can’t and won’t defend international corporations and the politicians who assist them in their destructive practices. But there is something much bigger going on here. Virtually no one understands that worldwide oil production is dropping while worldwide oil demand is rising. If I attempt to explain it, people change the subject. Denial is a normal human first response to the news of inevitable death.

Those rising gasoline prices are hard to ignore. The industrial era, fueled primarily by cheap crude oil is drawing to a close. That is my conclusion. But you should look at the information and decide for yourself. Really. You should.

If you have never heard of Peak Oil, or you have been resistant to the idea that something is seriously wrong, and not going to get better, I urge you to read this internet article: Ali Samsan Bakhtairi and Peak Oil

Mr. Bakhtairi, former director of the National Iranian Oil Co., knows oil. He believes we are in the first phase of a four-phase transitionary (and irreversible) world crude decline. The first phase, T-1 is where we are now. Bakhtairi says:

"Each transition [will] cover, on average, three-four years...[T]he only transition we can see rather clearly is T1. It is clear that T1 will witness the tilting of the 'oil demand' and 'oil supply' scales"


"After some 147 years of almost uninterrupted supply growth to a record output of some 81-82 million barrels/day [mb/d] in the summer of 2006, crude oil production has since entered its irreversible decline. This exceptional reversal alters the energy supply equation upon which life on our planet is based. It will come to place pressure upon the use of all other sources of energy -- be it natural gas, coal, nuclear power, and all types of sundry renewables, especially biofuels. It will eventually come to affect everything else under the sun."

Bakhtairi further states, of the 2nd stage of this transitionary time:

"My World Oil Production Capacity model has predicted that over the next 14 years, present global production of 82 million barrels per day will decrease by roughly 32%, down to around 55 million barrels per day by the year 2020."

My friends, if we are about to experience a 32% decline in worldwide oil production over the next decade, there is no question that life as we have known it in the industrial world is about to change in very dramatic ways.

Translation: we are, by default, about to begin transitioning back to some sort of agrarian civilization, back to a way of life that was the norm prior to when we became oil “addicted” and dependent.

The good news in all of this is that, at least in Bakhtairi’s analysis, there is still time for wise people to make voluntary adjustments in their lives in order to be better prepared for the inevitable changes.

Translation: Begin now to bring yourself and your family closer to the agrarian lifestyle. How so? Here are my suggestions…

1. Simplify. Downsize. Make do with less. Eliminate as much debt as possible.

2. If you are in a city, move to a rural area. Position yourself in a place where people have the land, the resources, and the inclination to help each other. Become part of a local church. Build relationships. Be a good neighbor. Weave yourself into the woof and warp of the community.

3. Learn and practice the traditional skills of self-sufficient agrarian people. Foremost among these skills is the ability to grow and preserve your own food. Learn by reading, asking others for help, and doing.

4. Begin to acquire the tools of self-sufficiency. Foremost among these tools are implements used to grow, gather, and preserve food.

Some will say this blog essay is a doom & gloom, head-for-the-hills alarmist reaction. Thoughts of the Y2k crisis that never happened come to mind. Peak oil isn’t being talked about in the mainstream news outlets (that I am aware of). If it was really that bad, it would be in the news more, wouldn't it?

Well, the internet is loaded with Peak Oil information from many sources that support what Mr. Bakhtaira says. All you need to do is search the words “Peak Oil” and educate yourself. And while you are at it, look for views from “experts” on the other side of this issue? I did a search of the words “peak oil myth.” I came up with information like found in the following sites:

Peak Oil is a Misleading Zionist Scam

The Peak Oil Myth

The Myth of Peak Oil

In short, the Peak Oil naysayers assert that there is no such problem as Peak Oil. They say the whole thing is a contrived scam, a conspiracy to destroy the American economy and make us subservient to diabolical powers. I won’t argue that. They might be right. I really don’t know.

Nevertheless, even among those who say Peak Oil is a scam, there appears to be the feeling that, scam or not, it’s coming down the pike. Watch the gas prices climb. They are like the handwriting on the wall. Think about it. Pray about it. These are exciting times we are living in....


Ethan said...

I can't say I have studied this much but just this week I saw some stuff from MIT about coal being the primary source of energy for the near future. Also apparently once oil gets over $100 is will be start becoming economical to get oil from other sources. However I think there are better reasons to move towards agrarianism and that is one gets sick and tired of worrying about the next round of layoffs. This is business as usual these days. Sure, many eventually pick up work a few months down the road but your commute might double or triple, the pay may be lower, the hours longer, who knows. Anyway here is a link about some of the coal stuff.

Makes me sad though, probably going to require blowing the top off a lot more mountains in KY.

John said...

Another thing to not lose site of is that we are nearing an oligopoly with oil in the US that is not unlike what we have with big ag. Entry to the market has become very difficult for mainline oil refining/distribution. Bio-fuels (bio-diesel especially) seem to allow small production but distribution is tightly controlled. Refining is also tightly controlled. I don't know that we have reached a peak oil situation from a raw crude perspective, but with tight control of refining and distribution, one could make it appear that we are in a more dire situation than we actually are, to artificially widen the profit gap between raw materials and retail product - effectively increasing the margin and corp bottom line.

Just my thoughts...who really knows


SzélsőFa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SzélsőFa said...

I'm with you on this one Herrick.
Becoming a countryman, growing your own veggies, managing your own animals seems to be a liveable alternative and might prove the only way to survive if the crisis hits the world.

To John:
bio-fuel is the WORST alternative to oil. It takes up more land and the best arable ones are needed. It is a killer option.

Ethan said...

OK, one more alternative reason for moving towards agrarianism, the coming economic youthanasia.

John said...

My point was not about whether bio-fuels are good or not. I happen to think that bio-diesel from recycled waste oil is good but farming more land to produce it (or ethanol) is not good, IMO. The point I was making is that when the cost to enter a market with a new product that can change the supply/demand metric is tightly controlled/gated by incumbents, the opportunity to manipulate many aspects of that market is present.

Yeoman said...

In addition to raising cattle, I'm presently a lawyer. But before that, I was a geologist. Never worked much at it, as I graduated into an oil depression, and there were very few jobs available. As, like most geologist, my interest in the topic had nothing to do with producing oil, I wasn't all that disappointed, although I was hoping for an outdoor job.

Anyhow, I mention that, as I have studied this.

Indeed, while I sort of hate to admit it, I've been gleefully looking forward to it. It fits into my agrarian world view. I already use horses for my ag endeavors, and I hate what cars have done to things, so I've been happily contemplating a world with fewer vehicles, and more dependancy on trains. A larger world, in other words.

I hate to admit that, as I suspect, with things the way they now are, that entails a lot of suffering for people not accustomed to living in that sort of world. And this country last really lived in such a world when it had about 1/3d of the population it currently does.

Wishing, while feeling guilty, for the inevitable decline of production, I haven't been able to bring myself to quite believe it either. I've seen it predicted too often.

This week, I heard on NPR, a story about cellolisic ethanol. Regular ethanol is a crock, and will not get us out of our fuel problems. But celluolsic might, I'm sorry to say. Made out of scrap wood chips, the backers are predicting they can make it with relatively low energy investment, and that it'll cost less than $2.00 a gallon. They seriously believe that it might replace petroleum oil based fuels.

Well, rats. I'm not afraid that my secret hopes shall not be realized.

By the way, two websites that discuss this frequently are those of Jim Kunstler. Mr. Kunstler has written on the topic frequently, and is a major theorist on it. His sites link into other solid sites on the topic. I'll forgo giving the name of one his blog, although I think those interested in the topic should look up his sites and read them, but I'll forgo giving the name of them, as its rather rude.

Haymaker said...

We have to be extremely wary of politicians and other ne'er do wells that would use ANY crisis (perceived or real) to advance government abuses. "Peak Oil" is a prime example.

As long as demand growth exceeds supply growth, the price will continue to rise and rise. Just econ 101 and the Iron Law of Supply and Demand.

Just as England made the transition in a generation from wood to coal, we will do the same. We've had the advantage of growing our economy for the past 100 years on cheap oil; the developing world will not. Just don't let the politicians or watermelons (green on the outside, red on the inside) dictate the next energy source.

Zach said...

Just as England made the transition in a generation from wood to coal, we will do the same.

That's a faith-based statement.

But in a sense, you're right. The geological facts (not to mention the geopolitical ones) mandate a serious reduction in the use of oil over the next few decades, starting now. In the same way that the law of gravity mandates that objects fall down.

So the transition will be made. The only real questions are "transition to what?" and "how much human suffering will there be along the way?"

We have to be extremely wary of politicians and other ne'er do wells that would use ANY crisis (perceived or real) to advance government abuses.

True enough -- but the existence of crisis exploiters doesn't demonstrate that the problem is only perceived, rather than real.


Anonymous said...

Hi Herrick!

I applaud you for bringing up this intense, much ignored and much denied subject of Peak Oil. I've become 'peak oil' aware about 4 years ago and have studied it in depth ever since.

The most authoritive website out there on the subject---many times written in technical terms way over my head by industry insiders, university professors,etc. is called 'The Oil Drum'.

The most 'doom and gloom' website on 'Peak Everything' is 'Life After the Oil Crash'.

They are from opposite ends of the spectrum but they agree on one thing. PEAK OIL IS A GEOLOGIC ABSOLUTE. Oil is a finite substance and none renewable in any time frame that matters.

Even most naysayers agree that peak oil production is a certainty. They just disagree on the timeframe---right now or ten, twenty, forty years from now.

Peak oil doesn't mean that the world runs out like an empty gas tank. It just means that the easy, cheap half has been used and the increasingly expensive half is left.

Peak oil means peak food which means peak global population. It also means peak economic growth and inevitable decline.

Look to current events. These are interesting times we live in.

Mountain Firekeeper

Yeoman said...

Re Moutain Firekeeper's comment, oh, I don't know. Perhaps I'm an optimist (and a pessimist at the same time) but, as somebody who has looked at this well before it was topical, I think the most negative predictions are grossly overblown.

Truth be known, a decline in oil prediction is neither unanticipated, nor a disaster. It simply means the era of cheap oil is over.

That, should it translate into an end of cheap fuel, is a good thing. It will not mean the end of everything, but rather the renewed importance of the local. Energy prices, it is true, will go up, but people are amazingly able to adjust. In the best case scenario, it means an increased agrarianism by default.

Worst case scenario, however, is that it simply doesn't occur. That's quite possible. As much as some of us might hope for the end of the oil age, we don't hope for the beginning of the alternative fuel age. Should that occur, and it is likely it will, things will just keep on, keeping on.

That may seem far fetched, but that's been the history of this story to date. And, whether we might wish what it means or not, we are unusually well situated, in spite of what we might believe, to make big switches. It is not at all impossible that 20 years from now the fuels we worried about, petroleum, coal, and the like, will seem like a distant, amusing, dream.

SzélsőFa said...

I will let you know when my entry about making sauerkraut is done, right?

Herrick Kimball said...

Thanks everyone for your input on this important subject of Peak Oil. I do appreciate the various opinions and insights.

For those who may be wondering, I asked SzelsoFa for sauerkraut-making advice (from a Hungarian perspective)at her blog. Making sauerkraut may not appear to be related to the subject of peak oil but, on second thought, perhaps it is. If we all learned how to make our own fermented sauerkraut, preferrably from our own homegrown cabbage, I think that would be a step in the right direction. I look forward to your post on the subject SzelsoFa.

Ron and Ginny said...

I look forward to it, too. I make my own sauerkraut and it doesn't always turn out. I am in the learning stages. Here are my posts about it, from this summer:

I have been making sauerkraut for a few years, but I still feel like I am still learning... ;-)

Ron and Ginny said...

Oops. That first link is missing the last couple of letters. The "tml". :-/

papabear said...

Learning how to make pickled vegetables, storing food in jars... sounds like a good skill to learn for those who are in regions that get snow in the Winter?

Anonymous said...

Listen.. I love your site, and you make alot of valid points, but this specific article is a bit alarmist.

I actually work in the oilfield here in Colorado - and our company is based in Canada. We're one of the top 10 largest oil companies in the world.

The Canadian oil sand reserves (which are larger than the entire middle eastern reserves) are in their infancy - and are expanding greatly.

Here in Colorado, our production has been on a very steady rise, at fairly dramatic rates due to new technology within the last 5 -8 years.

We've been able to move onto old well sites that were abandoned 20 - 30 years ago and 'refrac' them, basically turning them into new wells with production better than when they were orginally drilled.

Now, again, I agree with your points. There is nothing wrong with conserving what we do have -- in fact its our responsibility. But rest assured - we are not facing an oil shortage any time soon.

New technology is pushing production higher all the time. The probably that we DO have is on the refinery side of it. You realize that we (USA) haven't built a new refinery in over 20 years?

Anyways - just wanted to maybe put you all a little bit at ease. Again - conserve what we do have, we must. However, do not fear - the end isn't right around the corner. Yet.