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Peak Oil: Facts Annoy – Peak Oil Matters

Peak Oil: Facts Annoy – Peak Oil Matters.




Crude oil production is heavily concentrated in a small number of countries and a small number of giant  fields….Future global production is therefore heavily dependent on the future prospects of the giant fields, but this remains uncertain—in part because the required field-level data are either unavailable or unreliable. (links/citations in original) [1]

Those of us who’ve been paying more attention to fossil fuel production information than most citizens are well aware of the fact that precise information about remaining crude oil supplies—notably in the petro-states of the Middle East—is all but impossible to come by.

What’s more important than whether we have accurate information is letting most others know that what oil industry spokesman offer as definite responses to any peak oil concerns isn’t exactly iron-clad, either. A lot of it is also the end result of some careful massaging and specific extraction of the “best” parts of their stories, with most of the factual content and context intentionally omitted. It’s helpful, but only to them and their interests. Consumers are left high and dry.

This is a nice summary of some of those other inconvenient facts left out of the conversation:

In interpreting these numbers, it is essential to recognize that large quantities of resources within the Earth’s crust provide no guarantee that these can be produced at particular rates and/or at reasonable cost. There are huge variations both within and between resource types in terms of size of accumulation, depth, accessibility, chemical composition, energy content, extraction cost, net energy yield (i.e. the energy obtained from the resource minus the energy required to find, extract and process it), local and global environmental impacts and, most importantly, the feasible rate of extraction—to say nothing of the geopolitics of access. Higher quality resources tend to be found and developed first, and as production shifts down the ‘resource pyramid’, increasing reliance must be placed upon less accessible, poorer quality and more expensive resources that have a progressively lower net energy yield and are increasingly difficult to produce at high rates. [2]

None of that is off-the-charts complex. We’ve been relying on a select group of genuinely bountiful conventional crude oil fields to supply our ever-growing needs for decades now. The ride has been a marvelous one, and the technologies developed and creativity let loose have been nothing short of incredibly impressive.




Those conventional crude oil fields are finite resources. Despite the nonsense uttered by a handful of nitwits who proclaim (based on the solo work by a Russian more than half a century ago), oil is not self-replenishing. There’s no hose in Earth’s center filling those fields once the tanks run low.

So we’re now turning to fossil fuel supplies whose primary drawbacks are set forth above. That’s a problem. It’s an even bigger problem because instead of offering up those realities to both officials to whom we turn for solutions and to us lowly consumers who ought to know that what we rely upon may not be so reliable for much longer, the standard MO is to offer up feel-good messages.

One big potential challenge gets crossed off the consumer’s list; oil industry continues to insist on high prices (which—shockingly!—turn into enormous profits, not that that’s always such a bad thing, but….), and another day passes with all of us losing another opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations about what to do when the Happy Talk stories run their course. Reality won’t bend to half-truths. Production rate declines and oil field depletions will continue on their not-so-merry path notwithstanding.

Another part of this same story which should get much more airplay than it does:

This is not simply an issue of the steeply rising production costs of poorer quality resources because technical and net energy constraints may make some resources inaccessible and some production rates unachievable regardless of cost. Kerogen oil is especially constrained in rate and net energy terms and may never become economic to produce, yet it accounts for 19% of the IEA estimate of remaining recoverable resources. Hence, a critical evaluation of future supply prospects must go beyond appraisals of aggregate resource size and examine the technical, economic and political feasibility of accessing different resources at different rates over different periods of time. (links/citations in original) [3]

And for all the ongoing talk about our recent energy bonanza/boom/you pick the descriptive phrase, the basic realities about fracking and tight oil production increases aren’t changing to accommodate the industry cheerleading efforts:

The production cycle for tight oil resources is driven by a slightly different set of mechanisms since this resource is located in continuous formations rather than discrete fields. Nevertheless, the outcome is similar to that for conventional oil. With exceptionally high decline rates for individual wells), regional tight oil production can only be maintained through the continuous drilling of closely spaced wells. But tight oil plays are heterogeneous, with much higher well productivity in the ‘sweet spots’ than elsewhere. So when the sweet spots become exhausted, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain regional production. (links/citations in original) [4]

So much for good news! How about we find room in the narrative for some truth-telling and planning?

~ My Photo: Quebec City skyline – 09.19.09


 I invite you to view my other work at richardturcotte.com

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