[OPE-L:8553] Re: From New Zealand: Peak Oil

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Wed Mar 05 2003 - 21:43:19 EST


Re: [8551]:

Howard asked for comment about  the piece by  Richard  H. Sibson.

I think there are some Malthusian assumptions in this piece.  What
is not sufficiently considered, or is under-estimated,  is the pace of
technological change in oil-using means of production and means of
consumption.  Most notably,  what isn't factored in is how technologies
that use oil have the potential to become far more energy-efficient, i.e.
capable of being at least as efficient while consuming less oil (or oil
derivatives).

Of course, one can not deny the fact that oil is a non-renewable
resource and there is a limited potential world supply (even if there are
different estimates of what that potential is), but there are alternatives
(which for various economic and political reasons have not been exercised).

I also find the claim about long-distance transportation to be unconvincing.
In the short and medium-term,  higher costs for air and sea transportation
might indeed be anticipated (and this indeed might have an affect on travel
to NZ and consequently the NZ economy).  Over the longer-term, there is
reason to think that alternative technologies for air and sea travel will be
developed.  This might involve the  scrapping of the existing fleet of
long-distance air and sea  transport vessels (and consequently moral
depreciation), but given the economic incentives to pursue alternatives in
the future,  I think it is reasonable to think that they will be developed
... even if that might be decades away.

Sibson claims that by the mid-21st Century "the world resource of
conventional oil ... will effectively be dissipated."   *Even if* that is
the case, we're still talking about almost 50 years ... a long enough
time horizon to make any forecasts about the pace of development
of alternative energies highly suspect. Hell, we don't even know if
there will be human life on this planet in 50 years or whether there
will or will not be fundamental revolutionary change to a more advanced
mode of production during that time period.

Solidarity, Jerry

> Put simply, across the Earth, we are currently burning more than 4
> barrels of oil for every new barrel discovered while demand
> continues to rise.  Independent analysts estimate that we have
> produced nearly 50% of the total global resource of recoverable
> conventional oil.  The global 'Hubbert Peak' for conventional oil
> production is predicted to occur in 20055 years, with the peak in
> gas production following shortly afterwards.  Beyond the global
> peak, oil price will escalate steeply as demand exceeds supply with
> the Gulf States no longer able to meet the increasing shortfall
> throughout the rest of the world.  Competition for a dwindling oil
> supply will become increasingly fierce.  The world resource of
> conventional oil, accumulated over several hundred million years of
> geological time, will effectively be dissipated only 200 years after
> the first oil wells were drilled in the mid 19th century.
> What alternatives exist?  There are very substantial reserves of non-
> conventional oil (tar sands, oil shale, etc.), but extraction will
> be energy intensive, expensive, slow, and very environmentally
> unfriendly!  Renewable energy sources (hydro, solar, wind,
> geothermal) along with coal and nuclear power may substitute for oil-
> gas in electricity and heat generation, but NO known substitutes for
> long-distance travel and transportation can supplant the oil
> infrastructure over a short time-frame.  Hydrogen-powered fuel cells
> are being looked at as a clean energy source for short-haul
> transport, but generation of hydrogen is itself energy intensive.
> Because of its reliance on cheap long-haul transportation, global
>  trade at its present level seems unsustainable beyond peak oil.
> Massive disruption to the global economy seems likely by 2010-2015.


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