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Federal Government sees end of cheap oil coming

Posted by Peter W on August 18, 2007

Apparently even the Feds realize that we’re running out of oil quickly. I’m reading a study by the Dept. of Energy that is talking about the need to start producing oil from oil shale …

The idea of “peak oil” (the point where production of oil reaches a peak and begins to decline) has been around for a long time. In 1956 a geologist from Shell Oil, M. King Hubbert, forcasted based on oil production data that the US would reach peak oil production in 1976 (he was slightly off – it actually peaked in 1970). Although oil doesn’t run out until long after the peak, the problem is that as soon as the supply of oil fails to meet the demand, the price skyrockets. During the 1970s oil shocks, a 5% decrease in supply resulted in the price quadrupling. Information on peak oil is available on wikipedia, in the general media, and in oil industry news, and extensive info is available from peak oil websites. They even have a major movie coming out now!

Anyway, back to the Energy Dept. study, here’s a few key quotes:

Although there is no agreement about the date that world oil production will peak, forecasts presented by USGS geologist Thomas Magoon (Ref. 6), the OGJ, and others expect the peak will occur between 2003 and 2020 (the year the prediction was made follows the name). What is notable about these predictions is that none extend beyond the year 2020 [my emphasis], suggesting that the world may be facing shortfalls much sooner than expected by the EIA.

2003 – Campbell, 1998
2003 – Deffeyes, 2001
2004 to 2019 – Bartlett, 2000
2007 – Duncan and Youngquist, 1999
2008 – Laherrère, 2000
2010 to 2020 – International Energy Agency (IEA), 1998
2020 – Edwards, 1997

Further, it states:

Every effort needs to be made to reduce oil demand. Conservation and improved end-use efficiency are essential. Higher (real) prices will naturally force consumers to conserve and live within supply constraints. However, a severe supply-demand discontinuity could lead to worldwide economic chaos.

Remember, this is the federal government saying this. Of course, they purpose of their document is to forward the idea of producing more fossil fuels domestically. According to the document, the US has the equivalent to 2 trillion barrels of oil locked up in oil shale, and if we could just make use of that, we’ll be set. There are just a few problems:

  1. Oil shale is not a liquid, but in fact a sedimentary rock. You can’t just stick a pipe in the ground and suck it up as cheap liquid energy.
  2. The hydrocarbon in oil shale isn’t actually oil. It is kerogen, which can be converted to synthetic oil and gas through a chemical process which requires heating it to 570 °F or higher.
  3. There are a number of environmental problems with mining it and processing it, including pollution to groundwater and the air.

Basically it looks like oil shale could be useful for producing some electricity or for heating use or to supply necessary energy to the military, but as far as preserving our automobile and petroleum dependent lifestyles with it… forget it.

Personally, I’m planning on saving some money to move to some place in Europe that was designed and built before people became dependent on oil, where the peak oil shock won’t be so bad.


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