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Deep State Descending | KUNSTLER

Deep State Descending | KUNSTLER.

And so it’s back to the Kardashians for the US of ADD. As of Sunday The New York Timeskicked Ukraine off its front page, a sure sign that the establishment (let’s revive that useful word) is sensitive to the growing ridicule over its claims of national interest in that floundering, bedraggled crypto-nation. The Kardashians sound enough like one of the central Asian ethnic groups battling over the Crimea lo these many centuries — Circassians, Meskhetian Turkmen, Tatars, Karachay-Cherkessians — so the sore-beset American public must be content that they’re getting the news-of-the-world. Perhaps one of those groups was once led by a Great Kanye.

Secretary of State John Kerry has shut his pie-hole, too, for the moment, as it becomes more obvious that Ukraine happens to be Russia’s headache (and neighbor). The playbook of great nations is going obsolete in this new era of great nations having, by necessity, to become smaller broken-up nations. It could easily happen in the USA too as our grandiose Deep State descends further into incompetence, irrelevance, buffoonery, and practical bankruptcy.

Theories abound about what drives this crisis and all the credible stories revolve around the question of natural gas. I go a little further, actually, and say that the specter of declining energy sources worldwide is behind this particular eruption of disorder in one sad corner of the globe and that we’re sure to see more symptoms of that same basic problem in one country after another from here on, moving from the political margins to the centers. The world is out of cheap oil and gas and, at the same time, out of capital to produce the non-cheap oil and gas. So what’s going on is a scramble between desperate producers and populations worried about shivering in the dark. The Ukraine is just a threadbare carpet-runner between them.

Contributing to our own country’s excessive vanity in the arena of nations is the mistaken belief that we have so much shale gas of our own that we barely know what to do with it. This is certainly the view, for instance, of Speaker of the House John Boehner, who complained last week about bureaucratic barriers to the building of new natural gas export terminals, with the idea that we could easily take over the European gas market from Russia. Boehner is out of his mind. Does he not know that the early big American shale gas plays (Barnett in Texas, Haynesville in Louisiana, Fayettville in Arkansas) are already winding down after just ten years of production? That’s on top of the growing austerity in available capital for the so-far-unprofitable shale gas industry. That’s on top of the scarcity of capital for building new liquid natural gas terminals and ditto the fleet of specialized refrigerated tanker ships required to haul the stuff across the ocean. File under “not going to happen.”

Even the idea that we will have enough natural gas for our own needs in the USA beyond the short term ought to be viewed with skepticism. What happens, for instance, when we finally realize that it costs more to frack it out of the ground than people can pay for it? I’ll tell you exactly what will happen: the gas will remain underground bound up in its “tight rock,” possibly forever, and a lot of Americans will freeze to death.

The most amazing part of the current story is that US political leaders are so ignorant of the facts. They apparently look only to the public relations officers in the oil-and-gas industries and no further. Does Barack Obama still believe, as he said in 2011, that we have a hundred years of shale gas?” That was just something that a flack from the Chesapeake Corporation told to some White House aide over a bottle of Lalou Bize-Leroy Domaine d’Auvenay Les Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru. Government officials believe similar fairy tales about shale oil from the Bakken in North Dakota — a way overhyped resource play likely to pass its own peak at the end of this year.

If you travel around the upper Hudson Valley, north of Albany, where I live, you would see towns and landscapes every bit as desolate as a former Soviet republic. In fact, our towns look infinitely worse than the street-views of Ukraine’s population centers. Ours were built of glue and vinyl, with most of the work completed thirty years ago so that it’s all delaminating under a yellow-gray patina of auto emissions. Inside these miserable structures, American citizens with no prospects and no hope huddle around electric space heaters. They have no idea how they’re going to pay the bill for that come April. They already spent the money on tattoos and heroin.

Deep State Descending | KUNSTLER

Deep State Descending | KUNSTLER.

And so it’s back to the Kardashians for the US of ADD. As of Sunday The New York Timeskicked Ukraine off its front page, a sure sign that the establishment (let’s revive that useful word) is sensitive to the growing ridicule over its claims of national interest in that floundering, bedraggled crypto-nation. The Kardashians sound enough like one of the central Asian ethnic groups battling over the Crimea lo these many centuries — Circassians, Meskhetian Turkmen, Tatars, Karachay-Cherkessians — so the sore-beset American public must be content that they’re getting the news-of-the-world. Perhaps one of those groups was once led by a Great Kanye.

Secretary of State John Kerry has shut his pie-hole, too, for the moment, as it becomes more obvious that Ukraine happens to be Russia’s headache (and neighbor). The playbook of great nations is going obsolete in this new era of great nations having, by necessity, to become smaller broken-up nations. It could easily happen in the USA too as our grandiose Deep State descends further into incompetence, irrelevance, buffoonery, and practical bankruptcy.

Theories abound about what drives this crisis and all the credible stories revolve around the question of natural gas. I go a little further, actually, and say that the specter of declining energy sources worldwide is behind this particular eruption of disorder in one sad corner of the globe and that we’re sure to see more symptoms of that same basic problem in one country after another from here on, moving from the political margins to the centers. The world is out of cheap oil and gas and, at the same time, out of capital to produce the non-cheap oil and gas. So what’s going on is a scramble between desperate producers and populations worried about shivering in the dark. The Ukraine is just a threadbare carpet-runner between them.

Contributing to our own country’s excessive vanity in the arena of nations is the mistaken belief that we have so much shale gas of our own that we barely know what to do with it. This is certainly the view, for instance, of Speaker of the House John Boehner, who complained last week about bureaucratic barriers to the building of new natural gas export terminals, with the idea that we could easily take over the European gas market from Russia. Boehner is out of his mind. Does he not know that the early big American shale gas plays (Barnett in Texas, Haynesville in Louisiana, Fayettville in Arkansas) are already winding down after just ten years of production? That’s on top of the growing austerity in available capital for the so-far-unprofitable shale gas industry. That’s on top of the scarcity of capital for building new liquid natural gas terminals and ditto the fleet of specialized refrigerated tanker ships required to haul the stuff across the ocean. File under “not going to happen.”

Even the idea that we will have enough natural gas for our own needs in the USA beyond the short term ought to be viewed with skepticism. What happens, for instance, when we finally realize that it costs more to frack it out of the ground than people can pay for it? I’ll tell you exactly what will happen: the gas will remain underground bound up in its “tight rock,” possibly forever, and a lot of Americans will freeze to death.

The most amazing part of the current story is that US political leaders are so ignorant of the facts. They apparently look only to the public relations officers in the oil-and-gas industries and no further. Does Barack Obama still believe, as he said in 2011, that we have a hundred years of shale gas?” That was just something that a flack from the Chesapeake Corporation told to some White House aide over a bottle of Lalou Bize-Leroy Domaine d’Auvenay Les Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru. Government officials believe similar fairy tales about shale oil from the Bakken in North Dakota — a way overhyped resource play likely to pass its own peak at the end of this year.

If you travel around the upper Hudson Valley, north of Albany, where I live, you would see towns and landscapes every bit as desolate as a former Soviet republic. In fact, our towns look infinitely worse than the street-views of Ukraine’s population centers. Ours were built of glue and vinyl, with most of the work completed thirty years ago so that it’s all delaminating under a yellow-gray patina of auto emissions. Inside these miserable structures, American citizens with no prospects and no hope huddle around electric space heaters. They have no idea how they’re going to pay the bill for that come April. They already spent the money on tattoos and heroin.

Dream of U.S. Oil Independence Slams Against Shale Costs | CollapseNet

Dream of U.S. Oil Independence Slams Against Shale Costs | CollapseNet.

Off the World News Desk:

Dream of U.S. Oil Independence Slams Against Shale Costs 

“The path toward U.S. energy independence, made possible by a boom in shale oil, will be much harder than it seems.

Just a few of the roadblocks: Independent producers will spend $1.50 drilling this year for every dollar they get back. Shale output drops faster than production from conventional methods. It will take 2,500 new wells a year just to sustain output of 1 million barrels a day in North Dakota’s Bakken shale, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency. Iraq could do the same with 60.

Consider Sanchez Energy Corp. The Houston-based company plans to spend as much as $600 million this year, almost double its estimated 2013 revenue, on the Eagle Ford shale formation in south Texas, which along with North Dakota is one of the hotbeds of a drilling frenzy that’s pushed U.S. crude output to the highest in almost 26 years. Its Sante North 1H oil well pumped five times more water than crude, Sanchez Energy said in a Feb. 17 regulatory filing. Shares sank 7 percent.

We are beginning to live in a different world where getting more oil takes more energy, more effort and will be more expensive,” said Tad Patzek, chairman of the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.

Drillers are pushing to maintain the pace of the unprecedented 39 percent gain in U.S. oil production since the end of 2011. Yet achieving U.S. energy self-sufficiency depends on easy credit and oil prices high enough to cover well costs. Even with crude above $100 a barrel, shale producers are spending money faster than they make it…”

MCR, Rice Farmer, and CollapseNet generally have been reporting on this since this website has been in existence. There is no “free lunch”, and one of the primary problems that comes with Peak Oil is that all the easy to get oil has been found and used (or is being pumped but is in decline), and finding and extracting what’s left will be more energy-intensive and cash-expensive. U.S. “energy independence” is a bigger fucking myth than Santa Claus…at least until the general public can no longer afford their energy-intensive lifestyles and oil demand drops off the cliff, which can also be referred to as the collapse of industrial civilization… – Wes

Dream of U.S. Oil Independence Slams Against Shale Costs | CollapseNet

Dream of U.S. Oil Independence Slams Against Shale Costs | CollapseNet.

Off the World News Desk:

Dream of U.S. Oil Independence Slams Against Shale Costs 

“The path toward U.S. energy independence, made possible by a boom in shale oil, will be much harder than it seems.

Just a few of the roadblocks: Independent producers will spend $1.50 drilling this year for every dollar they get back. Shale output drops faster than production from conventional methods. It will take 2,500 new wells a year just to sustain output of 1 million barrels a day in North Dakota’s Bakken shale, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency. Iraq could do the same with 60.

Consider Sanchez Energy Corp. The Houston-based company plans to spend as much as $600 million this year, almost double its estimated 2013 revenue, on the Eagle Ford shale formation in south Texas, which along with North Dakota is one of the hotbeds of a drilling frenzy that’s pushed U.S. crude output to the highest in almost 26 years. Its Sante North 1H oil well pumped five times more water than crude, Sanchez Energy said in a Feb. 17 regulatory filing. Shares sank 7 percent.

We are beginning to live in a different world where getting more oil takes more energy, more effort and will be more expensive,” said Tad Patzek, chairman of the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.

Drillers are pushing to maintain the pace of the unprecedented 39 percent gain in U.S. oil production since the end of 2011. Yet achieving U.S. energy self-sufficiency depends on easy credit and oil prices high enough to cover well costs. Even with crude above $100 a barrel, shale producers are spending money faster than they make it…”

MCR, Rice Farmer, and CollapseNet generally have been reporting on this since this website has been in existence. There is no “free lunch”, and one of the primary problems that comes with Peak Oil is that all the easy to get oil has been found and used (or is being pumped but is in decline), and finding and extracting what’s left will be more energy-intensive and cash-expensive. U.S. “energy independence” is a bigger fucking myth than Santa Claus…at least until the general public can no longer afford their energy-intensive lifestyles and oil demand drops off the cliff, which can also be referred to as the collapse of industrial civilization… – Wes

Peak oil is not a myth | Chemistry World

Peak oil is not a myth | Chemistry World.

20 February 2014
One might have the impression that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of shale deposits is the answer to world energy security. Certainly fracking has received much attention and investment, but its prospects must be considered in a broader context.
In the US, where practically all such operations have been conducted to date, fracking now accounts for 40% of domestic gas production and 30% of oil production. The price of natural gas has plummeted, and overall US oil production has increased for the first time since 1970, which had otherwise been falling in accordance with the predictions M King Hubbert made in 1956.
© Shutterstock

However, this last point is the salient one. Sources of unconventional oil (listed below) such as tight oil (or ‘shale oil’ in popular discourse) are only commercially viable because the need to match the declining rate of conventional oil production has raised oil prices. It is the rate of production of oil that determines its supply, rather than the size of the reserves: ‘The size of the tap, not the tank.’

Oil check

Current data for the decline in oil fields’ production indicates that around 3 million barrels per day of new production must be achieved year on year, simply to sustain supply levels. This is equivalent to finding another Saudi Arabia every 3–4 years. In this context, fracking is at best a stop-gap measure. Conventional oil production is predicted to drop by over 50% in the next two decades and tight oil is unlikely to replace more than 6%.
Once conventional oil’s rate of loss exceeds unconventional oil’s rate of production, world production must peak. Production of sweet, light crude actually peaked in 2005 but this has been masked by the increase in unconventional oil production, and also by lumping together different kinds of material with oil and referring to the collective as ‘liquids’. (More recently, the term ‘liquids’ is often upgraded to ‘oil’, which is highly disinformative since the properties of the other liquids are quite different from crude oil.)
Fracking produces mostly shale gas (rather than oil), and the major growth in global ‘oil’ production has been from natural gas liquids (NGL; in part from shale gas). But the principal components of NGL are ethane and propane, so it is not a simple substitute for petroleum.

Energy in, energy out

The energy return on energy invested (EROEI) is worse for all unconventional oil production methods than for conventional oil.

‘Oil production is predicted to drop by over 50% in two decades’

This means that more energy must be invested to maintain output. As a rough comparison, conventional crude oil production has an EROEI in the range 10–20:1, while tight oil comes in at 4–5:1. Oil recovered from (ultra)deepwater drilling gives 4–7:1, heavy oil 3–5:1, and oil shale (kerogen) somewhere around 1.5–4:1. Tar sands is around 6:1, if it is recovered by surface mining, but this falls to around 3:1 when the bitumen is ‘upgraded’ by conversion to a liquid ‘oil’ substitute.

As conventional oil production has fallen, so has oil’s EROEI as we recover it from increasingly inhospitable locations, and with new technologies. The price of a barrel of oil has trebled over the past decade, but output has effectively flatlined. We may be close to the ceiling of global oil production, and the prospect of filling the gap with oil from alternative sources is daunting.

Different rocks

Although fracking has produced sizeable volumes of oil and gas in the US, there is no guarantee that a similar success will be met elsewhere, including the UK, in part because the geology is different. Even in the US, it is the sweet spots that have been drilled, and the shale plays elsewhere across the continent are likely to prove less productive.
The shale gas reserves in Poland have been revised down from 187 trillion cubic feet (tcf) to 12–27 tcf: at best, a mere 14% of the original estimate. And most of the production is likely to be gas. Even if we can exhume large volumes of gas at a generous production rate, converting our transport system to run on it would be a considerable undertaking, particularly given the timescale imposed by conventional oil production’s rate of decline. And there are many uses for oil other than to provide liquid fuels, for which substitutes must also be found.
Renewables do not provide a comparable substitute for crude oil and the liquid fuels that are refined from it, since the potential contribution from biofuels is relatively minor. Replacing the UK’s 34 million oil-powered vehicles with electric versions is an unlikely proposition, given the limitations of time and resources such as rare earth metals. Mass transit is the more likely future for electric transport than personal cars. The end of cheap, personal transport is a real possibility and may seed changes in our behaviour, such as building resilient communities that produce more of their essentials, such as food and materials, at the local level.
There are many uncertainties, but it seems clear that the age of cheap oil is over. We are entering a very new and different phase of human experience.
Chris Rhodes is an independent consultant based in Reading, UK, and author of  University shambles

Consumers Paying More as Nat Gas Cash Prices Spike

Consumers Paying More as Nat Gas Cash Prices Spike.

By Joao Peixe | Thu, 06 February 2014 22:43 | 0

As natural gas prices climb, reaching over $5/mcf again on 4 February, and with an unseasonably cold winter, local utilities say that natural gas customers’ bills are 30-40% higher now than last winter.

Last week, we saw natural gas prices rise above $5 for the first time in three years, then falling back a bit only to rise again on 4 February, with March futures trading above $5.25/mcf—or more than 6%, according to expert trader Dan Dicker.

Customers are footing the bill for higher gas prices and the coldest November-January period in four years in the Midwest and Northeast.

In Omaha, Nebraska, weather has been about 30% colder this year than last, and utility regulatory officials saying that gas use among customers is up while bills are up by 34-38% over last year.

Utilities are paying high prices for gas because demand has been higher and consumption rates at a level that has reduced storage by about 17% over the average of the previous five years.

In the meantime, there is a great deal of disconnect between cash prices and futures prices for natural gas, with futures trading an increasingly volatile business. While 6 February saw a spike in next-day prices, according to Reuters, 5 February saw natural gas futures fall sharply due to longer-term mild weather forecasts.

“The futures market appears to be disconnected from key developments occurring in the physical market,” Reuters quoted BNP Paribas analyst Teri Viswanath as saying on 6 February. “Today we witnessed a marked increase in spot prices for every consuming region, suggesting that utilities might be rationing limited inventories by purchasing gas off the market.”

As Dicker noted for The Street, “Low stockpiles caused by sequestration and a rush of domestic exploration and production companies away from natural gas production in favor of shale oil is taking its toll and providing the first real and consistent support of prices since 2007. Suddenly, natural gas markets are vulnerable to price spikes and traders are afraid to be short.”

By. Joao Peixe of Oilprice.com

US shale under fire over thirst for water  |  Peak Oil News and Message Boards

US shale under fire over thirst for water  |  Peak Oil News and Message Boards.

Water shortages have put the US oil and gas industry on a “collision course” with other users because of the large volumes needed for hydraulic fracturing, a group of leading investors has warned.

Almost 40 per cent of the oil and gas wells drilled since 2011 are in areas of “extremely high” water stress, according to Ceres, a network of investors that works on environmental and social issues. It highlights Texas, the heart of the US oil boom, and companies including Chesapeake Energy, EOG Resources, ExxonMobil and Anadarko Petroleum as the heaviest users of water.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is essential for extracting oil and gas from the shale formations that have been responsible for the US boom of the past decade, and it requires large volumes of water: typically 2m gallons or more per well. The water is mixed with sand and chemicals and pumped underground at high pressure to open up cracks in the rock so the oil and gas will flow more freely. The water that flows back out again is often poured away into separate disposal wells.

Water shortages can create tensions with local communities and force companies into expensive solutions such as bringing the water to the wells by truck.

Monika Freyman of Ceres said water was a risk that was often overlooked. “People don’t worry about it until it’s gone,” she said. “If you are an investor in a company that is in a water-stressed area, you have to ask questions about how it is managing their water risks.”

Shareholders including the employee pension funds of New York city and state said this week they would file resolutions for the annual meetings of companies including Exxon, Chevron, EOG and Pioneer Natural Resources, calling for more detailed disclosure of their environmental impact, including water use.

Ceres identified Anadarko, Encana, Pioneer and Apache as the companies with the greatest exposure to water risk, meaning the greatest volume of water use in areas with extremely high stress. In those areas, 80 per cent or more of the available water has been committed for other users including homes, farms and businesses.

Exxon said XTO, its shale oil and gas subsidiary, “works with local authorities to ensure there is adequate supply.” It added that coal needed ten times as much water as gas produced through fracking for an equivalent energy content, and corn-based ethanol needing up to 1,000 times as much water.

Anadarko said it was “on the leading edge” of efforts to manage and conserve water, including recycling it wherever possible, and drawing on a range of sources such as municipal effluent and produced water from oil and gas wells. It is also working with environmental groups and others to develop best practices for water use.

Fracking accounts for a relatively small proportion of US water demand: less than 1 per cent even in Texas, according to a University of Texas study, compared to 56 per cent for irrigation. However, in some areas with the greatest oil and gas activity, such as the Eagle Ford shale of south Texas, it can be much more significant.

The potential problem in Texas is exacerbated by the protracted drought that has affected the state and the growth in its population caused by the strength of its economy.

Jean-Philippe Nicot of the University of Texas said the state’s farmers were using less water for irrigation and shifting to crops that could cope with drier conditions. “More and more water is needed for urban centres, and fracking is part of the picture,” he said.

“All the Texas aquifers are heavily taxed right now.”

Wood Mackenzie, the consultancy, argued in a report last year that the industry would need to address the issue to be able to develop shale oil and gas production around the world, with many of the most promising reserves in China, Africa and the Middle East in areas of water scarcity.

Jim Matheson of Oasys Water, a company that develops water treatment technology, predicted an “inexorable but slow” movement towards recycling.

“We’re very early in the evolution, but the future is one in which we’re going to have to figure out how to clean and reuse the same water resources,” he said.

FT

The Archdruid Report: The Steampunk Future

The Archdruid Report: The Steampunk Future.

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 05, 2014

The Steampunk Future

For those of us who’ve been watching the course of industrial civilization’s decline and fall, the last few weeks have been a bit of a wild ride.  To begin with, as noted in last week’s post, the specter of peak oil has once again risen from the tomb to which the mass media keeps trying to consign it, and stalks the shadows of contemporary life, scaring the bejesus out of everyone who wants to believe that infinite economic growth on a finite planet isn’t a self-defeating absurdity.
Then, of course, it started seeping out into the media that the big petroleum companies have lost a very large amount of money in recent quarters, and a significant part of those losses were due to their heavy investments in the fracking boom in the United States—you know, the fracking boom that was certain to bring us renewed prosperity and limitless cheap fuel into the foreseeable future?  That turned out to a speculative bubble, as readers of this blog were warned a year ago. The overseas investors whose misspent funds kept the whole circus going are now bailing out, and the bubble has nowhere to go but down. How far down? That’s a very good question that very few people want to answer.
The fracking bubble is not, however, the only thing that’s falling. What the financial press likes to call “emerging markets”—I suspect that “submerging markets” might be a better label at the moment—have had a very bad time of late, with stock markets all over the Third World racking up impressive losses, and some nasty downside action spilled over onto Wall Street, Tokyo and the big European exchanges as well. Meanwhile, the financial world has been roiled by the apparent suicides of four important bankers. If any of them left notes behind, nobody’s saying what those notes might contain; speculation, in several senses of that word, abounds.
Thus it’s probably worth being aware of the possibility that in the weeks and months ahead, we’ll see another crash like the one that hit in 2008-2009: another milestone passed on the road down from the summits of industrial civilization to the deindustrial dark ages of the future. No doubt, if we get such a crash, it’ll be accompanied by a flurry of predictions that the whole global economy will come to a sudden stop. There were plenty of predictions along those lines during the 2008-2009 crash; they were wrong then, and they’ll be wrong this time, too, but it’ll be few months before that becomes apparent.
In the meantime, while we wait to see whether the market crashes and another round of fast-crash predictions follows suit, I’d like to talk about something many of my readers may find whimsical, even irrelevant. It’s neither, but that, too, may not become apparent for a while.
Toward the middle of last month, as regular readers will recall, I posted an essay here suggesting seven sustainable technologies that could be taken up, practiced, and passed down to the societies that will emerge out of the wreckage of ours. One of those was computer-free mathematics, using slide rules and the other tools people used to crunch numbers before they handed over that chunk of their mental capacity to machines. In the discussion that followed, one of my readers—a college professor in the green-technology end of things—commented with some amusement on the horrified response he’d likely get if he suggested to his students that they use a slide rule for their number-crunching activities.
Not at all, I replied; all he needed to do was stand in front of them, brandish the slide rule in front of their beady eyes, and say, “This, my friends, is a steampunk calculator.”
It occurs to me that those of my readers who don’t track the contemporary avant-garde may have no idea what that next to last word means;  like so many labels these days, it contains too much history to have a transparent meaning. Doubtless, though, all my readers have at least heard of punk rock.  During the 1980s, a mostly forgettable literary movement in science fiction got labeled “cyberpunk;” the first half of the moniker referenced the way it fetishized the behavioral tics of 1980s hacker culture, and the second was given it because it made a great show, as punk rockers did, of being brash and belligerent.  The phrase caught on, and during the next decade or so, every subset of science fiction that hadn’t been around since Heinleins roamed the earth got labeled fill-in-the-blankpunk by somebody or other.
Steampunk got its moniker during those years, and that’s where the “-punk” came from. The “steam” is another matter. There was an alternative-history novel, The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, set in a world in which Victorian computer pioneer Charles Babbage launched the cybernetic revolution a century in advance with steam-powered mechanical computers.  There was also a roleplaying game called Space 1889—take a second look at those numbers if you think that has anything to do with the 1970s TV show about Moonbase Alpha—that had Thomas Edison devising a means of spaceflight, and putting the Victorian earth in contact with alternate versions of Mars, Venus and the Moon straight out of Edgar Rice Burroughs-era space fantasy.
Those and a few other sources of inspiration like them got artists, craftspeople, writers, and the like  thinking about what an advanced technology might look like if the revolutions triggered by petroleum and electronics had never happened, and Victorian steam-powered technology had evolved along its own course.  The result is steampunk:  part esthetic pose, part artistic and literary movement, part subculture, part excuse for roleplaying and assorted dress-up games, and part—though I’m far from sure how widespread this latter dimension is, or how conscious—a collection of sweeping questions about some of the most basic presuppositions undergirding modern technology and the modern world.
It’s very nearly an article of faith in contemporary industrial society that any advanced technology—at least until it gets so advanced that it zooms off into pure fantasy—must by definition look much like ours. I’m thinking here of such otherwise impressive works of alternate history as Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt. Novels of this kind portray the scientific and industrial revolution happening somewhere other than western Europe, but inevitably it’s the same scientific and industrial revolution, producing much the same technologies and many of the same social and cultural changes. This reflects the same myopia of the imagination that insists on seeing societies that don’t use industrial technologies as “stuck in the Middle Ages” or “still in the Stone Age,” or what have you:  the insistence that all human history is a straight line of progress that leads unstoppably to us.
Steampunk challenges that on at least two fronts. First, by asking what technology would look like if the petroleum and electronics revolutions had never happened, it undercuts the common triumphalist notion that of course an advanced technology must look like ours, function like ours, and—ahem—support the same poorly concealed economic, political, and cultural agendas hardwired into the technology we currently happen to have. Despite such thoughtful works as John Ellis’ The Social History of the Machine Gun, the role of such agendas in defining what counts for progress remains a taboo subject, and the idea that shifts in historical happenstance might have given rise to wholly different “advanced technologies” rarely finds its way even into the wilder ends of speculative fiction.
If I may be permitted a personal reflection here, this is something I watched during the four years when my novel Star’s Reach was appearing as a monthly blog post. 25th-century Meriga—yes, that’s “America” after four centuries—doesn’t fit anywhere on that imaginary line of progress running from the caves to the stars; it’s got its own cultural forms, its own bricolage of old and new technologies, and its own way of understanding history in which, with some deliberate irony, I assigned today’s industrial civilization most of the same straw-man roles that we assign to the societies of the preindustrial past.
As I wrote the monthly episodes of Star’s Reach, though, I fielded any number of suggestions about what I should do with the story and the setting, and a good any of those amounted to requests that I decrease the distance separating 25th-century Meriga from the modern world, or from some corner of the known past.  Some insisted that some bit of modern technology had to find a place in Merigan society, some urged me to find room somewhere in the 25th-century world for enclaves where a modern industrial society had survived, some objected to a plot twist that required the disproof of a core element of today’s scientific worldview—well, the list is long, and I think my readers will already have gotten the point.
C.S. Lewis was once asked by a reporter whether he thought he’d influenced the writings of his friend J.R.R. Tolkien. If I recall correctly, he said, “Influence Tolkien? You might as well try to influence a bandersnatch.” While I wouldn’t dream of claiming to be Tolkien’s equal as a writer, I share with him—and with bandersnatches, for that matter—a certain resistance to external pressures, and so Meriga succeeded to some extent in keeping its distance from more familiar futures. The manuscript’s now at the publisher, and I hope to have a release date to announce before too long; what kind of reception the book will get when it’s published is another question and, at least to me, an interesting one.
Outside of the realms of imaginative fiction, though, it’s rare to see any mention of the possibility that the technology we ended up with might not be the inevitable outcome of a scientific revolution. The boldest step in that direction I’ve seen so far comes from a school of historians who pointed out that the scientific revolution depended, in a very real sense, on the weather in the English Channel during a few weeks in 1688.  It so happened that the winds in those weeks kept the English fleet stuck in port while William of Orange carried out the last successful invasion (so far) of England by a foreign army.
As a direct result, the reign of James II gave way to that of William III, and Britain dodged the absolute monarchy, religious intolerance, and technological stasis that Louis XIV was imposing in France just then, a model which most of the rest of Europe promptly copied. Because Britain took a different path—a path defined by limited monarchy, broad religious and intellectual tolerance, and the emergence of a new class of proto-industrial magnates whose wealth was not promptly siphoned off into the existing order, but accumulated the masses of capital needed to build the world’s first industrial economy—the scientific revolution of the late 17th and early 18th century was not simply a flash in the pan. Had James II remained on the throne, it’s argued, none of those things would have happened.
It shows just how thoroughly the mythology of progress has its claws buried in our imaginations that many people respond to that suggestion in an utterly predictable way—by insisting that the scientific and industrial revolutions would surely have taken place somewhere else, and given rise to some close equivalent of today’s technology anyway. (As previously noted, that’s the underlying assumption of the Kim Stanley Robinson novel cited above, and many other works along the same lines.)  At most, those who get past this notion of industrial society’s Manifest Destiny imagine a world in which the industrial revolution never happened:  where, say, European technology peaked around 1700 with waterwheels, windmills, square-rigged ships, and muskets, and Europe went from there to follow the same sort of historical trajectory as the Roman Empire or T’ang-dynasty China.
Further extrapolations along those lines can be left to the writers of alternative history. The point being made by the writers, craftspeople, and fans of steampunk, though, cuts in a different direction. What the partly imaginary neo-Victorian tech of steampunk suggests is that another kind of advanced technology is possible: one that depends on steam and mechanics instead of petroleum and electronics, that accomplishes some of the same things our technology does by different means, and that also does different things—things that our technologies don’t do, and in some cases quite possibly can’t do.
It’s here that steampunk levels its second and arguably more serious challenge against the ideology that sees modern industrial society as the zenith, so far, of the march of progress. While it drew its original inspiration from science fiction and roleplaying games, what shaped steampunk as an esthetic and cultural movement was a sense of the difference between the elegant craftsmanship of the Victorian era and the shoddy plastic junk that fills today’s supposedly more advanced culture. It’s a sense that was already clear to social critics such as Theodore Roszak many decades ago. Here’s Roszak’s cold vision of the future awaiting industrial society, from his must-read book Where the Wasteland Ends:
“Glowing advertisements of undiminished progress will continue to rain down upon us from official quarters; there will always be well-researched predictions of light at the end of every tunnel. There will be dazzling forecasts of limitless affluence; there will even be muchreal affluence. But nothing will ever quite work the way the salesmen promised; the abundance will be mired in organizational confusion and bureaucratic malaise, constant environmental emergency, off-schedule policy, a chaos of crossed circuits, clogged pipelines, breakdowns in communication, overburdened social services. The data banks will become a jungle of misinformation, the computers will suffer from chronic electropsychosis. The scene will be indefinably sad and shoddy despite the veneer of orthodox optimism. It will be rather like a world’s fair in its final days, when things start to sag and disintegrate behind the futuristic façades, when the rubble begins to accumulate in the corners, the chromium to grow tarnished, the neon lights to burn out, all the switches and buttons to stop working. Everything will take on that vile tackiness which only plastic can assume, the look of things decaying that were never supposed to grow old, or stop gleaming, never to cease being gay and sleek and perfect.”
As prophecies go, you must admit, this one was square on the mark. Roszak’s nightmare vision has duly become the advanced, progressive, cutting-edge modern society in which we live today.  That’s what the steampunk movement is rejecting in its own way, by pointing out the difference between the handcrafted gorgeousness of an older generation of technology and the “vile tackiness which only plastic can assume” that dominates contemporary products and, indeed, contemporary life. It’s an increasingly widespread recognition, and helps explain why so many people these days are into some form of reenactment.
Whether it’s the new Middle Ages of the Society for Creative Anachronism, the frontier culture of buckskinners and the rendezvous scene, the military-reenactment groups recreating the technologies and ambience of any number of of long-ago wars, the primitive-technology enthusiasts getting together to make flint arrowheads and compete at throwing spears with atlatls, or what have you:  has any other society seen so many people turn their backs on the latest modern conveniences to take pleasure in the technologies and habits of earlier times? Behind this interest in bygone technologies, I suggest, lies a concept that’s even more unmentionable in polite company than the one I discussed above: the recognition that most of the time, these days, progress no longer means improvement.
By and large, the latest new, advanced, cutting-edge products of modern industrial society are shoddier, flimsier, and more thickly frosted with bugs, problems, and unwanted side effects than whatever they replaced. It’s becoming painfully clear that we’re no longer progressing toward some shiny Jetsons future, if we ever were, nor are we progressing over a cliff into a bigger and brighter apocalypse than anyone ever had before. Instead, we’re progressing steadily along the downward curve of Roszak’s dystopia of slow failure, into a crumbling and dilapidated world of spiraling dysfunctions hurriedly patched over, of systems that don’t really work any more but are never quite allowed to fail, in which more and more people every year find themselves shut out of a narrowing circle of paper prosperity but in which no public figure ever has the courage to mention that fact.
Set beside that bleak prospect, it’s not surprising that the gritty but honest hands-on technologies and lifeways of earlier times have a significant appeal.  There’s also a distinct sense of security that comes from the discovery that one can actually get by, and even manage some degree of comfort, without having a gargantuan fossil-fueled technostructure on hand to meet one’s every need. What intrigues me about the steampunk movement, though, is that it’s gone beyond that kind of retro-tech to think about a different way in which technology could have developed—and in the process, it’s thrown open the door to a reevaluation of the technologies we’ve got, and thus to the political, economic, and cultural agendas which the technologies we’ve got embody, and thus inevitably further.
Well, that’s part of my interest, at any rate. Another part is based on the recognition that Victorian technology functioned quite effectively on a very small fraction of the energy that today’s industrial societies consume. Estimates vary, but even the most industrialized countries in the world in 1860 got by on something like ten per cent of the energy per capita that’s thrown around in industrial nations today.  The possibility therefore exists that something like a Victorian technology, or even something like the neo-Victorian extrapolations of the steampunk scene, might be viable in a future on the far side of peak oil, when the much more diffuse, intermittent, and limited energy available from renewable sources will be what we have left to work with for the rest of our species’ time on this planet.
For the time being, I want to let that suggestion percolate through the crawlspaces of my readers’ imaginations.  Those who want to pick up a steampunk calculator and start learning how to crunch numbers with it—hint:  it’s easy to learn, useful in practice, and slide rules come cheap these days—may just have a head start on the future, but that’s a theme for a later series of posts. Well before we get to that, it’s important to consider a far less pleasant kind of blast from the past, one that bids fair to play a significant role in the future immediately ahead.

That is to say, it’s time to talk about the role of fascism in the deindustrial future. We’ll begin that discussion next week.

U.S. Crude Oil Exports, Really? – A Look at the UK

U.S. Crude Oil Exports, Really? – A Look at the UK.

by Steve Andrews, originally published by ASPO-USA  | TODAY

Last week the U.S. Senate’s Energy Committee held the first hearing in decades on the question of whether exporting US crude oil, prohibited by law since the 1970s, should be allowed again.  Attendees heard proponents say that allowing crude exports would hold prices down with opponents claiming the opposite case.

To be clear, these would not be net crude oil exports.  Of the 19+ million barrels a day that we consume at present, we import roughly 7.5 million barrels of crude per day and export roughly 2.5 million b/day of petroleum products (diesel and propane, for example).  And even the US EIA admits we’ll be importing millions of barrels of crude oil for decades, in fact indefinitely.

So this is really an intramural fight: US oil producers want to be able to export while refiners and most users want to keep the crude at home.  As Senator Ron Wyden, Chairman of the Energy Committee, said in his remarks, don’t expect this argument to be resolved quickly.

Here’s a related thought experiment.  It involves the UK crude oil situation between 1980 and today, shown in Figure 1 below.  After joining the exclusive club of Top 20 world oil producers in 1978, two years later the UK’s oil producers joined the ranks of oil exporters.  Over the next 25 years they exported roughly ¼ of their total oil production, earning around $20+ per barrel most of those years.  But after production peaked in 1999, within six years the UK was back to importing oil, at an average price approaching $100 a barrel.  Imports have grown back to ½ million b/d, which is 1/3 of total consumption.

My question to the Brits: if you could turn the clock back, would you allow all your oil to be produced at the maximum possible rate, earning the amount of export dollars you did, if it meant that within a generation you would be back to being an oil importer paying roughly five times as much per barrel?  In other words, how did the buy-high sell-low plan work for you?  And were those exports in your best long-term national interests?  Didn’t think so…

There are almost as many differences as there are parallels between the UK and US circumstances.  But they share a bottom-line question: is it in the USA’s best long-term national interests to produce unconventional shale oil sufficiently fast that we end up exporting some of it overseas? Didn’t think so…

Fig. 1: The UK exported oil for 25 years from 1980 through 2005, shown above as the amount produced above the consumption line.  Exports peaked at 1.2 million barrels a day in 1999, the same year that production peaked at 2.93 million b/d.   imported roughly a half-million b/d in Data is from BP (2013).

Steve Andrews is a former energy consultant and a contributing editor for Peak Oil Review.

Jean Laherrere uses Hubbert linearization to estimate Bakken shale oil peak in 2014  |  Peak Oil News and Message Boards

Jean Laherrere uses Hubbert linearization to estimate Bakken shale oil peak in 2014  |  Peak Oil News and Message Boards.

In his latest research on shale oil French oil geologist Jean Laherrere from ASPO France

http://aspofrance.viabloga.com/texts/documents estimates a Bakken shale oil peak in 2014.
He uses a Hubbert linearization to calculate a total of 2,500 mb to be produced
In global terms, a total cumulative of 2.5 Gb is just around 10% of annual crude production and 1.3% of daily production.
Well productivity in Bakken is stagnant at around 130 b/d for a couple of years now.
There has been a peak in the number of drilling rigs. A shift of the rigs curve by 2 years suggests a production peak in 2014.
Jean’s research is in line with that published by David Hughes in November 2013:
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