free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: September 2005

Friday, September 30, 2005



This is one of the silliest and most rampant myths out there. Every peak oil idiot out there is parroting the soundbite:

The gold bugs: "When Ghawar peaks (Ghawar is the largest oil field ever found) Saudi Arabia peaks and when Saudi Arabia peaks the whole World peaks."Source

Investors: "The common mantra is that when Ghawar peaks, Saudi Arabia peaks and hence the world peaks."Source

Newshounds: "Those who study oil depletion have long known that when Ghawar peaks, the world peaks."Source

The nice folks over at Armageddon Online: "Yeah, I think when Ghawar peaks, the world peaks."Source

Chinese investors: "Saudi Arabia peaks when Ghawar peaks(Ghawar is the largest oil field ever found in Saudi Arabia)."Source

Here's the FYI folks... Ghawar peaked in 1981:
The Ghawar Field was discovered in 1948. Production began in 1951 and reached a peak of 5.7 million barrels per day in 1981. This is the highest sustained oil production rate achieved by any single oil field in world history. At the time that this record was achieved, the southern areas of Hawiyah and Haradh had not yet been fully developed. Production was restrained after 1981 for market reasons, but Ghawar remained the world's most important oil field. The production of Russia's Samotlor field was greater during the mid-eighties, but this was because Ghawar's production was restrained. Development of the southern Hawiyah and Haradh areas during 1994 to 1996 allowed production from the Ghawar Field to exceed 5 million barrels per day once again, more than Samotlor ever produced.Source
Did Saudi Arabia peak in 1981? No. Did the world peak in 1981? No.

If you're wondering what Ghawar's been up to lately, here's the production stats from Aramco(pdf) (click the image for a clearer view):

Notice that the water cut has been dropping since 1999. All this hysteria about water cut is just another diaper load of hype from the peak oil hysterics and profiteers. Oil fields are routinely produced with water cuts of even 90% without anyone batting an eye. Here's the real info from Ali Daneshy, director of petroleum engineering at the University of Houston and retired vice president of Halliburton:
Regarding water production, this is a natural and unavoidable aspect of oil and gas production and often intentionally induced by water flooding. Water injection helps boost production by sweeping the oil out of the reservoir and maintaining its pressure. We are doing this in Texas every day, producing more than 1 million barrels of oil with a water-oil ratio over 12! In Prudhoe Bay this ratio is more than 3. By comparison, the estimated water-oil ratio for Saudi Arabia is slightly over 1. When considered with the long-term high oil production, this low ratio is a strong testimony to the thickness and size of Saudi oil zones and their ability to sustain this production for some time. Depending on specific location, each barrel of produced water may cost the operator $0.10-$2.00. At today’s prices, one can produce 20 barrels of water for each barrel of oil and still maintain a profitable operation. And the Saudis are a long way from it!Source
Isn't that amazing? Texas has a water cut of 92%, and Prudhoe Bay has a water cut of more than 75%. How come the gold bugs and the profiteers aren't shrieking about the imminent collapse of Texas and Prudhoe Bay?

I guess it all comes down to who you want to believe about water cuts:

a) Matt Simmons, an MBA from Houston who dabbles in reservoir engineering as a hobby, and has a banking firm with $60 billion in assets under management -- a large portion of which are no doubt ballooning in value with all the water cut hysteria he is whipping up. OR

b) Ali Daneshy, director of petroleum engineering at the University of Houston.


Also, referring to P. 306 of the DOE's Annual Energy Review 2004, we see that, in 2004, Saudi Arabia produced 9.1mbd and Russia produced 8.8mbd. So why aren't we all getting hysterical about the Russian peak and Russian horizontal wells and Russian water cut? How come the sound bite isn't: "When Russia peaks, the world peaks"?

I'll tell you why: This isn't about logic, it's about Matt Simmons' obsession with the Saudis. Why is he so obsessed with the Saudis? Because he's one of those Americans who think they own Saudi Arabia. They think Saudi oil is their oil, and they don't trust the Saudis with their grubby hands all over it.

Thursday, September 29, 2005


The following thought-provoking figure was drawn by the godfather of peak oil himself, M. King Hubbert, in his 1956 paper Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels(pdf):


Some nimwit in the comments is trying to advance the idea that "peak fossil fuels" in the diagram refers to peak oil. Let's put that nonsense to rest. In Figure 29, which precedes Figure 30 above, Hubbert shows the relationship between peak oil and nuclear power in the U.S.:As you can see, when Hubbert wants to refer to peak oil, he uses the label "PETROLEUM". When he wants to refer to peak fossil fuel he uses the label "FOSSIL FUELS".

It's interesting to note that the U.S. is right on schedule according to Figure 29. Net summer capacity in 2004 of operable nuclear generating plants in the US was about 100 million kW (source: DOE, Annual Energy Review 2004, P. 274).

Wednesday, September 28, 2005



In the long run, the solution to peak oil works like this:

1) Conservation to reduce demand for energy (liquid fuels in particular) to the lowest possible level. This will involve retrofitting first world cities to eliminate the need for cars in ordinary life.
2) Using replacements (tar sands, natural gas, GTL, ethanol, coal liquefaction etc.) to substitute for liquid fuel demand which cannot be eliminated.
3) Shifting as much of the electrical grid as possible to nuclear (supplemented with wind/solar) to free up natural gas and coal for transport and feedstock applications (see #42).
4) Managing with nuclear and the remaining fossil fuels until plentiful, clean space energy (see #5, #33, #51, #104) can be brought on line.

Nuclear energy is a critical part of the solution, and the doomers often criticize it for it being unscalable. They say:

i) It takes 10 years or more to build a nuclear power plant.
This is a myth.
The new-generation nuclear reactors being talked about after a pause of three decades are not much different from those of the past, though the designs should make them safer, more efficient and easier to build.


Here are some characteristics of each of the top three light-water reactor designs and a next-generation gas-cooled reactor:

The Westinghouse AP1000:

This would have one-third fewer pumps, half as many valves, and more than 80 percent fewer pipes than current reactors. It can be built using modular units manufactured in a factory and transported to the reactor site, cutting construction time to three years.Source

ii) Nuclear power can't be scaled up quickly.
This is false. Nuclear power generation rose from 21.8 billion kilowatt-hours in 1970 to 576.9 billion kilowatt-hours in 1990 (Source: DOE Annual Energy Review 2004, P. 275). That's an increase of 2500% over 20 years -- a growth rate of about 17.7% per annum.

iii) We won't be able to build nuclear plants after peak oil because building nuclear plants is dependent on oil.
This is also false, as can be seen from the history of the late 1970s/early 1980s, when world crude oil production dropped by -15%, while nuclear power in the U.S. rose by +60% (see #69).

Monday, September 26, 2005


Dale Allen Pfeiffer is a top peak oil author/advocate. It appears from his new website that he doesn't want Mike Ruppert in his life anymore:

Maybe it's time the rest of the peak oil community wised up like Dale. Stooges like Ruppert need to be jettisoned if peak oil is to ever gain credence as a serious issue.

Note from JD) Dale has chronicled the whole pathetic saga of his relationship with Mike Ruppert here. It's interesting to note that Ruppert was paying Pfeiffer $1500 a month at one time. Kind of gives you an idea of what the total payroll for the FTW site must be. Lots of spare cash floating around over at that paranoia superstore. Makes you wonder how much Ruppert and Savinar are grossing these days from their peak oil fear-mongering. Maybe Matt Simmons needs to run a little campaign for greater "transparency" in the doom-merchandising sector. :P


For those of you just coming to peak oil, Mike Ruppert is one of the top merchants of peak oil doom -- right up there with Matt Savinar and LATOC.

To put it bluntly, Ruppert is a conspiracy theorist paranoid, and a shameless media whore, with well-documented mental health issues.

To give you an idea of how reliable Ruppert's predictions are, check this out:
While I had serious doubts about America's ability to recover from Katrina, I am certain that - barring divine intervention - the United States is finished; not only as a superpower, but possibly even as a single, unified nation with the arrival of Hurricane Rita.
-- Mike Ruppert, September 21, 2005Source


When talk turns to the EROEI of mining coal, the EROEI advocates want to show that coal mining is becoming increasingly unfeasible, so they try to make EI (Energy Invested) as large as they can. For example, in the case of strip mining, they stress that mining companies are supposed to put the overburden back into the hole, compact the dirt, do landscaping etc., and that the energy necessary to do that restoration must be included in EI.

Whatever your position on such restoration, it is clearly a political/regulatory requirement, not a physical requirement necessary to harvest and use the coal energy.

If we include energy inputs like this, then EROEI is not an objective, physical number. It's an advocacy number.

It may be that the EROEI of coal (or other energy sources) is decreasing not because the energy is getting harder to mine or use, but because of an ever increasing load of regulatory requirements. In that case, EROEI isn't a hard physical number at all. It's a value which depends on the regulatory climate. Which of course means that the EROEI of coal can also be instantaneously increased by eliminating regulations (i.e. eliminating the requirement to fill in overburden). EROEI loses a lot of credence as a hard physical limit, if the coal lobby can change it by making a few phone calls to the right people.


If you go over to, and look at their coal page, you'll find the following blurb, sitting in the middle of the page, with no further explanation:

While it is true that deeper mines have higher costs, it is typical of peak oilers to ignore exactly how much higher the costs are. The impression you get from this soundbite is that the EROEI of coal is declining (because the coal is getting deeper and deeper), and that at same point soon, we will reach a point where coal mining will no longer be feasible because EROEI<1.

Let's calculate, and find this point. A short-ton of coal weighs 2000pounds=907kg. To lift one ton of coal one meter requires an energy expenditure of 8,889joules (8.4btu). Also, a short-ton of coal contains about 20 million-btu (MMbtu).

So, how deep would that ton of coal have to be buried in order for EROEI to be 1 (i.e. for the energy required to lift the coal to be equal to the energy in the coal)? It would have to be so deep that raising it would require 20MMbtu.

Setting up the equation:
(8.4)D=2 x 10^7

Solving, the depth is 2.4 x 10^6 meters = 2,400km. For comparison the deepest mine on earth has a depth around 3.7km (Source).
Also, the radius of the earth is 6,378km. Thus the coal would be in a deposit 1/6 of the way through the earth, deep in the lower mantle.

Grades of coal are irrelevant to this argument. Even if we calculate with lignite (the lowest grade of coal, with a heat value of around 15MMbtu/ton), the deposit would still have to be 14% of the way through the earth, deep in the mantle.

Increasing depth does affect the decision of whether or not to strip mine. But the fact that strip mining requires too much energy does not mean that mining the coal requires too much energy. If the overburden is so high that removing it will make EROEI<1, then the answer is simple. Don't remove it. Dig a deep mine, and that will bring the EROEI back up again.

Consider this:
The deepest Coal Mine in the world is over 5000 feet below the ground in the UK. Many in the United States are over 1200 feet deep, most of those are closed and now few are remaining. There is a mine in Alabama, which is the deepest vertical shaft coalmine in North America, with operations at 2,140 feet beneath the surface."Source
Clearly depth (and the costs imposed by it) are not a serious limiting factor. The heat produced inside the earth (and its effects on human beings) will become a limiting factor way before the energy required to lift the coal to the mine mouth. The increasing depth of coal will not decrease the EROEI of coal mining to any meaningful degree.


In the comments, anon brings up a common but invalid objection to this calculation:
This is actually not very well thought out. The calculation you perform doesn't have anything to do with finding the coal (although that is not a problem for the present), digging the mine, actually mining the coal, transporting it to the surface as you say (I don't see any friction coefficients in there, although those'd probably have to be averaged), processing it, and transporting it. Those costs are going to be gargantuan compared to the energy cost to lift it.
Nice try, anon, but virtually all the costs you mention (finding the coal, actually mining the coal, processing, transporting) are costs whether the coal is 10 feet deep or 1000 feet deep. Therefore, the increasing depth of the mine does not add anything to those costs.

What you call "digging the mine" is avoided as far as possible by coal miners because it is unproductive work. The mine is dug by following the coal seam -- i.e. digging the mine and mining the coal are, for the most part, the same process.

Finally, yes, friction is a factor, but the fact remains: even including friction, the amount of energy in the coal is vastly larger than the energy needed to lift it from any real-world coal mine depth.

Saturday, September 24, 2005


As we've seen earlier (#97), Matt Simmons has had a hard-on for years to drill ANWR, the OCS (Outer Continental Shelf) and Lease #181 in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

The fertilizer lobby is now jumping on the same bandwagon:
"U.S. farmers provide a safe and abundant food supply for the entire world. Agriculture is the basis for the reliable food, fiber, feed and now energy for the United States and many others around the world. Like any other industry we need a reliable supply of inputs including fertilizer and fuel," said Leon Corzine, NCGA president. "Farmers are being impacted now with the high prices of fertilizer, natural gas and diesel at a time when our energy needs are at their highest. As an energy dependent nation, it is more important than ever that we diversify our nation's supplies of natural gas by using domestic resources and bringing stabilization to our supply". The Alliance members are urging Congress to reform public policies that create demand for certain energy resources, like natural gas, while restricting access to supply sources. According to the Minerals Management Service, there is an estimated 406 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Outer Continental Shelf. This potential supply is clearly needed, yet it is off limits due to federal policies that leave 85 percent of all federally controlled offshore areas subject to a federal moratoria on development. The moratoria that were put into effect 24 years ago must be reexamined to reflect the new reality of short supply and greater demand. Advanced drilling technologies have proven that these energy resources can be produced in an environmentally responsible manner.
The agricultural community believes that it is strategically critical for Congress to remove these production barriers now to provide new sources of natural gas and oil supplies. A high priority should be placed on opening up to exploration Lease Area 181 in the Gulf of Mexico which is known to have an abundant supply of energy resources with access to existing pipeline infrastructure. This action would facilitate speedy delivery of much needed natural gas to the marketplace. This area alone could insure that agriculture has access to natural gas to continue manufacturing fertilizer, grow our crops and feed our citizens. Source(pdf)
The fertilizer lobby is a crew of short-sighted fools who are only worried about their own pocketbook, and not the future well-being of the country or the world. Somebody high profile, in the congress or the media, needs to ask these fucking idiots one question:
What's the plan for when ANWR, Lease Area 181 and the OCS dry up?


Here's the energy consumption breakdown for the US for 2002 from the DOE (Source: New York Times Almanac, 2004, P. 361):

Coal: 22.7%
Natural gas: 23.6%
Petroleum products: 39.5%
Nuclear electric power: 8.4%
Renewable energy: 6.0%

If we have a 3% per annum decline in petroleum consumption after the peak, that will translate into only a 1.2% decrease in total energy. A decline in oil will only have an attenuated effect on total energy.

For a brief period after the peak, there may be no growth in coal, gas, nuclear or renewable. So we can expect total energy to drop slightly -- i.e. at 1 or 2% per year. (In fact, this is what happened when oil consumption dropped by 15% from 1979-1983. Total energy only dropped by 3% over five years. See #69.) However, high gasoline prices will drive consumers to shift to non-petroleum sources, which will raise prices and encourage investment and growth in those sources. For example, electrical scooters/cars/trains will switch some transportation fuel demand to the grid. Similarly, people will switch from central fuel oil or gas heating, to highly localized electric space heating. Certainly massive new investments will be made in non-conventional, coal, gas, nuclear and renewables. Some of these investments are even underway today.

If coal, gas, nuclear and renewables all grow slightly, their growth can overcome a 3% drop in petroleum, and enable growth in total energy consumption despite declining oil production.

Imagine total energy after the peak, declining by 1 or 2% a year. At some point, the decline in oil (which is getting smaller every year) will be compensated by growth in the non-oil sources, and the curve will stop falling. For convenience, call the subsequent period of new growth the "Rebound". At the latest, I feel the Rebound will begin 10 or 15 years after the peak.


In 2002, the U.S. consumed 38.4 quads of petroleum products, vs. 61.6 quads for C+G+N+R (coal + gas + nuclear + renewables).

The following shows the depletion per year in total energy consumption (units: quads), assuming an oil decline rate of 3% per year (starting in 2005), and no growth in coal, gas, nuclear, renewables or unconventional oil:

2006 - 1.152
2007 - 1.11744
2008 - 1.0839168
2009 - 1.051399296
2010 - 1.019857317
2011 - 0.989261598
2012 - 0.95958375
2013 - 0.930796237
2014 - 0.90287235
2015 - 0.87578618
2016 - 0.849512594

The absolute amount of energy lost is decreasing in size every year. Furthermore, the percentage decrease in total energy consumption starts at 1.2, and steadily decreases.

2006 - 1.152
2007 - 1.130462933
2008 - 1.109086861
2009 - 1.087879787
2010 - 1.066849433
2011 - 1.046003229
2012 - 1.025348309
2013 - 1.004891497
2014 - 0.984639309
2015 - 0.96459794
2016 - 0.944773266

It seems clear that, eventually, an increase due to growth in C+G+N+R will be able to compensate for the ever decreasing loss in oil energy. At that point, growth in total energy consumption will resume ("The Rebound").

There is no good reason to think that peak oil will cause C+G+N+R to peak.
"Oil will peak; therefore coal, gas, nuclear and renewables must also peak at the same time." That is an extreme, hard-to-defend statement which does not accord with the historical facts (see #69).


Here's another calculation:
Start with the DOE figures for U.S. consumption in quads for 2002:

Total: 97.71
Coal(C): 22.18
Gas(G): 23.08
Petroleum products(P): 38.40
Nuclear(N): 8.15
Renewables(R): 5.9

Suppose there is a 3% drop in P, to 38.40(.97)=37.24

The total amount of lost energy is 38.4-37.24=1.16 quads

We can divide this loss proportionally to C, G, N and R. The assignment comes out to be (in quads):
C: .43
G: .45
N: .16
R: .11

If each of C, G, N and R can produce that much more, the loss in oil energy can be completely compensated (i.e. .43+.45+.16+.11=1.16).
Doing the calculation, it turns out that each of C, G, N and R must increase by 1.9% per annum to totally compensate for the loss of oil energy.

That's a surprisingly low rate of growth, achieved by dividing the burden of compensation evenly among the alternatives.

So what are the forecasted growth rates for C, G, N and R for a given country? C+G+N+R can probably mask peak oil and allow total energy to grow (or at least stabilize) even after peak oil occurs. How fast can R grow (2%, 3%, 6%?), and how big can it get? What is the forecasted growth in G over the next 10 years for the U.S.? I would be very surprised if it was negative. LNG import facilities are being built. Where will they be sourced, and what is their scheduled capacity? If you knew that, you could calculate the expected growth in G. I would bet the US can compensate by importing gas, for as long as a decade -- much as they have compensated by importing crude oil after the 1970 lower-48 peak.


The International Energy Agency (IEA) has gone on record stating that the early peak theory is hype :
IEA Dismisses Peak Oil Talk, Says Technology Can Boost Reserves

Sept. 22 (Bloomberg) -- The International Energy Agency said technological investments will expand world oil supplies, dismissing "peak oil'' theories that supplies are running out.

"There is no shortage of oil and gas in the ground, but quenching the world's thirst for them will call for major investment in modern technologies,'' IEA Executive Director Claude Mandil said in a statement marking the publication of a 150-page book "Resources to Reserves, Oil and Gas Technologies for the Energy Markets of the Future.''

At least $5 trillion in investment will be needed in the next three decades to tap reserves, the IEA said, repeating a figure it has already used. The IEA has never before directly responded to "peak oil'' theorists who say the agency is overly optimistic about estimates of increased production.


"The hydrocarbon resources in place around the world are sufficiently abundant to sustain likely growth in the global energy system for the foreseeable future,'' the IEA said in its report. "The doomsayers are again conveying grim messages through the front pages of major newspapers. The IEA has long maintained that none of this is cause for concern.''Source

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


My buddy jkl sent in this timely and amusing link:
Petrotheism: The Quest for Fuel

As an added bonus, you're gonna love this. This is the "Y2K TEOTWAWKI" commercial from 1999. Ignore the Y2K references, and pretend that it's the "Day After Peak Oil".

Doomer heaven!!
TSHTF QuickTime Movie


Liebig's Law is a perennial favorite in die-off circles. The law states that the population of a species is constrained by whatever essential resource is in shortest supply.

Here's a classic statement by Jerry Abbott, a peak oiler over at
Every species of living organism follows a characteristic pattern of population growth. If the species' numbers are not limited by predators, then they will be limited by the full utilization or by the depletion of the first essential resource to fall into short supply. Often, that resource is food.

When caribou were introduced to a Canadian island years ago, they had much moss to eat. But there were no wolves on the island, so over the years the caribou kept munching on moss and breeding up more caribou. The herd grew in numbers. Then, one year right before winter, one of the caribou ate the last mouthful of moss. Canadian foresters were able to save the last three dozen animals of what had been a herd of thousands.

The end came swiftly. A generation before the end, there was no obvious sign that the end was near.

That is where we are with the energy resources we require to grow our food. Source

Doomers portray Liebig's Law as the mechanism of collapse, the executioner of species which have gone into overshoot, but this is a biased oversimplification.

In his book "How Many People Can the Earth Support?", Joel E. Cohen goes into great detail on Liebig's Law, and this part is especially interesting:
But natural communities are far more complex than the monocultural experiments on which the law of the minimum [i.e. Liebig's Law] is based. Different species have different requirements for a given element, as Liebig knew. Consequently, when one element is limited in a community of species, population growth typically does not grind to a halt; rather, a species that is less constrained by that limiting element replaces another that is more constrained in a process called succession.
This observation is extremely important when Liebig's law of the minimum is used to think about human carrying capacity. For humans, different technologies, like different species in nature, are ways of extracting life from the physical, chemical and biological environment. In ecological succession, as time passes some species become less abundant and other species become more abundant, in a more or less repeatable pattern. Analogously, in human ecology, some technologies decline and are replaced by others. The changes in technologies imply changes in how people live and how they make a living, but do not necessarily imply constraints on human numbers.(P. 242)
Here's a more detailed variation of the same concept:
Conclusion: Collapse as a Succession Process

Even within the social sciences, the process by which complex societies give way to smaller and simpler ones has often been presented in language drawn from literary tragedy, as though the loss of sociocultural complexity necessarily warranted a negative value judgment. This is understandable, since the collapse of civilizations often involves catastrophic human mortality and the loss of priceless cultural treasures, but like any value judgment it can obscure important features of the matter at hand.

A less problematic approach to the phenomenon of collapse derives from the idea of succession, a basic concept in the ecology of nonhuman organisms. Succession describes the process by which an area not yet occupied by living things is colonized by a variety of biotic assemblages, called seres, each replacing a prior sere and then being replaced by a later, until the process concludes with a stable, self-perpetuating climax community (Odum 1969).

One feature of succession in many different environments is a difference in resource use between earlier and later seres. Species characteristic of earlier seral stages tend to maximize control of resources and production of biomass per unit time, even at the cost of inefficiency; thus such species tend to maximize production and distribution of offspring even when this means the great majority of offspring fail to reach reproductive maturity. Species typical of later seres, by contrast, tend to maximize the efficiency of their resource use, even at the cost of limits to biomass production and the distribution of individual organisms; thus these species tend to maximize energy investment in individual offspring even when this means that offspring are few and the species fails to occupy all available niche spaces. Species of the first type, or R-selected species, have specialized to flourish opportunistically in disturbed environments, while those of the second type, or K-selected species, have specialized to form stable biotic communities that change only with shifts in the broader environment (Odum 1969).Source
This is something the doomers always leave out in their treatment of Liebig's Law. In nature, resource constraints lead not to die-off, but to succession, where more complex, resource-conserving species steal the niche of the wasteful species that preceded them. Countries, people and technologies which do not depend on oil will thrive during peak oil -- growing into the niches vacated by the withering oil-dependent "species".


In 2001/2002, the breakdown of fertilizer consumption in the U.S. was:
Nitrogen: 10.9 million metric tons (MMtonnes)
Phosphorus: 4.2 MMtonnes
Potassium: 4.5 MMtonnes (Source)

The following Table comes from a report by the Stockholm Environment Institute called "Guidelines on the Use of Urine and Faeces in Crop Production" Source(pdf), P. 6
In 2002, the population of the U.S. was about 288,000,000 (source: New York Times Almanac, 2004). Therefore, calculating from the Chinese values, the total fertilizer production in the U.S., per year, in the form of human urine/faeces is roughly:
Nitrogen: 1.1 MMtonnes
Phosphorus: .17 MMtonnes
Potassium: .5 MMtonnes

Percentages of total U.S. fertilizer use which could be supplied with human urine/faeces are thus:
Nitrogen: 10%
Phosphorus: 4%
Potassium: 11%

Now let's turn to the figures for livestock waste (click to enlarge).
Fertilizer in livestock waste, per year, in the U.S. is roughly:
Nitrogen: 5 MMtonnes
Phosphorus: 1.3 MMtonnes
We can also get the following ballpark figure for potassium, assuming that animal waste contains 3 times as much potassium as phosphorus (as is the case for humans):
Potassium: 4.1 MMtonnes

Manure from humans + livestock can thus compensate for the following percentages of chemical fertilizer consumption:
Nitrogen: 56%
Phosphorus: 43%
Potassium: 102%

This is pretty good, although there are clearly a lot of leaks in the system which allow nutrients to escape the cycle. These include:
1) Run off waste (nutrients flowing into water)
2) Escape of volatile nitrogen into the air (ammonia)
3) Human carcasses which are not composted
4) Animal parts which are not composted (bones, blood, hides, teeth etc.)
5) Kitchen/yard/garden wastes buried in land fills
6) Food exports etc.


Richard Heinberg, author of "The Party's Over" is a "peak oil" promoter and population reduction advocate whose book sports endorsements from Virginia Deane Abernethy and David Pimental.

Who are these people?

The greening of hate
Interview of Betsy Hartmann by Fred Pearce, [20 February 2003]

The poor are to blame for environmental decline because they have been putting their own ecosystems under intolerable population pressure. That's the hidden ideology of far too many environmentalists in the US who really should know better, says Betsy Hartmann, a radical feminist and academic. So much for the green on the outside, red on the inside label that's often hung round eco-campaigners; some conservationists, she told Fred Pearce recently, are the new conservatives

What do you think is going on among environmentalists? Is the right wing taking over?

I first realised that the right wing was attempting to penetrate the mainstream environment movement when I sat on a panel at an environmental meeting in the University of Oregon in 1994. Beside me was a professor and environmentalist, Virginia Abernethy of Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. She seemed to me to blame immigrants for overpopulating our country and destroying our environment. Some of the audience liked her ideas but I thought they were racist.

I started to investigate and found she wasn't alone among conservationists. She was a leader of the group called the Carrying Capacity Network, which sounds like a benign environmental organisation but its main campaign is to halt what it calls mass migration to the US. They blame migrants for destroying pristine America. For instance, they blame Mexican migrants for starting fires in national forests near the border. This group has prominent environmental scientists on its advisory board. People like biologist Tom Lovejoy, the green economist Herman Daly and the ecologist David Pimental. I call this the greening of hate.Source
Buzzing over to Carrying Capacity Network, I notice a lot of big peak oil "names" on the Boards of Directors and Advisors:
Virginia Abernethy, David Pimentel, Albert A. Bartlett, William Catton, Jr., Marcia Pimentel...

Here's some of their recent "action alerts":
What's New at CCN

* September 2005 URGENT: NEW HEALTH THREAT - Mass immigration bringing (ever more) new diseases to the U.S. - Now more than ever a moratorium is crucial to Stem the Tide and Prevent an Epidemic

* June 2005 URGENT: NEW THREAT - Bill Would Amnesty Millions of Illegals - URGENT: NEW THREAT - Bill Would Amnesty Millions of Illegals CCN's HOLISTIC STRATEGY STOPS THE TRIPLE THREAT to U.S. Social Security, Jobs, and Border Security Social Security Serious Immediate Threat - Must Act NOW

* May 2005 IMPORTING VIOLENCE: How mass immigration is bringing violent crime to your community - Culture is just one determinant of individual behavior – and is never predictive of any particular behavior or particular person's behavior. Nevertheless, violence characterizes some of the diverse cultures that are increasingly represented in the United States.

Virginia Abernethy has definitely got some racial issues. She's on the editorial board of the "Occidental Quartlerly".

The Quarterly believes, among other things, that: "4. The European identity of the United States and its people should be maintained. Immigration into the United States should be restricted to selected people of European ancestry."

I don't think we can blame Heinberg for this woman (yet), but this is definitely another case of white racists glomming onto peak oil, much like the BNP in Britain. Here's Virginia's picture:

Monday, September 19, 2005


This is another radical development which will increase carrying capacity by freeing up lots of land, water, grain etc.
Fancy a beefburger, but want to spare the cow? Tissue engineers experimenting with ways of growing meat in a lab dish could soon provide a solution. [...]
His dream is that we will eventually be able to grow and cook fresh sausage overnight at home in special machine, just like a home bread maker.Source
This technique will also eliminate massive volumes of waste, such as:
a) 1.4 billion tons of farm animal wastes produced annually in the U.S.
b) Green-house gas methane produced by farm animals, which constitutes 25% of all human-induced methane production in the U.S.
c) Energy wasted producing animal parts which are not eaten (i.e. bones, brains, intestines, hooves, hair, teeth etc.)

Here's a site with some resources on this technology:


Here's more information on a proposed manufacturing process for LSP (see #33):
Alex Freundlich, a UH researcher, along with Charles Horton, senior research scientist at the Texas Center for Superconductivity and Advanced Materials, see a way to create huge solar cell arrays on the Moon. They can be fabricated by using materials found in the lunar regolith -- the upper crust of the Moon.

Working with NASA's Johnson Space Center, Freundlich and his colleagues have used "simulated" Moon material to devise solar cell devices.

The work has lead to a master plan for the Moon.

What's required is a robotic lunar rover that cuts across the Moon's surface, melting the regolith into a very thin film of glass. Then, a thin film of solar cells is applied to that lunar glass substrate. An array of such lunar solar cells could then be used as a giant solar energy converter that cranks out electricity.Source

This is interesting, and shows how "refutations" of LSP can be based on incorrect assumptions. If solar cells are just burned directly onto the lunar surface, then the whole "lunar factory" idea is a lot simpler than it would appear at first glance. People are still thinking "inside the box" of terrestrial manufacturing techniques, imagining a solar panel as a packaged object which comes from the factory in a box. But why not just make the ground itself the glass substrate, and do processes like (printing, cleaning, vacuum deposition etc.) on top of it, in situ, with moving rovers? The moon is an ideal industrial environment -- it's already at vacuum!

The original lunar rovers from the 1970's were designed and deployed very quickly. As Criswell points out in the above cite:
Lunar rover development began after Apollo 11, and the first rover traversed the lunar surface 33 months later.

Question: Why build solar farms on the moon, when you could build them in deserts like the Sahara?

Answer: One problem with PV in the deserts is the weather. The power can be interrupted by clouds at any time, and you have to deal with issues like weathering, corrosion, and sand/grime build-up on the panels. The panels must be enclosed in protective glass, and the fabrication of that glass would require massive energy. As of 1994, EIA stats show that 60% of the energy used in glass manufacturing comes from natural gas.

The moon, on the other hand, is an ideal industrial environment. There is no weather. It may also be possible, on the moon, to fuse glass with lens or mirror furnaces (i.e with free, inexhaustible energy). The daylight temperature on the moon is 123°C. You can cook food there with ordinary sunlight. You can freeze food too, at night or in the shadows, because the temperature is -173°C. High temperature superconductors can work in the shade/night on the moon with no cooling. That would be convenient for lossless power transmission, energy storage and maglev mining etc. Oddly enough, lunar soil (regolith) is a good insulator:
A habitat less than a meter beneath the surface of Luna will experience a very constant temperature equal to its mean surface temperature. That's about -9°F (-23°C). The lunar regolith is such a good insulator that the habitat will need a heat-rejection system even at night because of the heat given off by equipment and inhabitants of the lunar habitat."Source
Just for comparison, -23°C is higher than some sleeping bag ratings.

Another problem is energy transmission. In the U.S., the best spot would be the southwest, but what about areas which aren't near any deserts? Do they cover up farmland, or open space, or grassland, or forest, or tundra? Covering up the Sonoran desert with solar panels or algae farms is often mentioned, but the Sonoran desert is not a dead parking lot of sand. I've seen it many times, and it is very alive and beautiful. Covering it up will only increase the footprint of man, and is in no way an "environmental" solution. (Neither is burning coal, even with filters.)

Another problem is energy storage. What do you do when the sun goes down on the Sonoran Desert? This is a very severe problem with all terrestrial solar. The solar has to be parasitic on a waste generating process, like nuclear or coal.

It's also interesting to consider the geopolitics of desert power. If a desert power technology can be established, deserts will function economically like dams. The power can only be transmitted so far, so deserts and their satelittes will function as cores of development, and desert-rich countries will become rich because they own the real estate. Las Vegas will boom like never before. Is it good for the US/Europe to switch from one form of power monopolized by desert nations to another form of power with the same problem? After all, when you talk about the "Sahara", you're actually talking about the property of Mauritania, Western Sahara, Morocco, Mali, Algeria, Niger, Chad, Libya, Egypt and Sudan. They'll nationalize the sands. The moon, on the other hand, doesn't belong to anybody. In fact, isn't the U.S. flag still flying up there? :P

In a word, the long-term solution to peak oil is the grid. But (IMO) there are only two realistic, environmental ways to provide non-intermittent base power: nuclear and space solar (although hot dry rock may play a role at some point). I prefer space solar because it is 100% sustainable (peak-proof), eliminates toxic processes like uranium mining, and moves our industrial footprint off-planet.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


Many peak oilers believe that global peak oil is imminent, and the world is completely unprepared for it. They like to cite this passage in the Hirsh report:
The peaking of world oil production presents the U.S. and the world with an unprecedented risk management problem. As peaking is approached, liquid fuel prices and price volatility will increase dramatically, and without timely mitigation, the economic, social and political costs will be unprecedented. Viable mitigation options exist on both the supply and demand sides, but to have substantial impact, they must be initiated more than a decade in advance of peaking.(P. 4)
These folks are alarmists, in a big hurry, who claim that the only prudent course is to start mitigating NOW!! Then if peak comes early, we'll be ready, and if it comes late, there is no harm done. But this ignores the fact that mitigating too early does cause harm.

Hirsch et al. allude to this problem in their report:
2. Oil Peaking Risk Analysis: Cost of Premature Mitigation versus Waiting
The date of world oil production peaking is unknowable, but it may occur in the not too distant future. Large-scale mitigation is needed more than a decade before the onset of peaking if economic hardship is to be avoided. If major efforts were initiated early and peaking was to occur decades later, there might be an unproductive use of resources. (Hirsch report, P. 88)
That's putting it charitably. What we're actually talking about here is massive-scale pork, the classic example being oil shale in the late 70s, early 80s:
The second great challenge the Democrats faced was an OPEC-induced surge in energy prices. Carter came in with some good and some bad ideas about how to alleviate the energy crisis. Democrats in Congress rebuffed the president's best plan--Carter's attempt to lift the price controls Richard Nixon had imposed on domestic energy. But congressional Democrats eagerly adopted his bad ideas, including the creation of the Department of Energy, which would become perhaps the most dysfunctional agency in Washington. House Speaker Tip O'Neill set up a task force to speed along passage of the authorizing bill, getting the agency running in a matter of months. Congress happily signed on in 1980 when Carter asked it to set up the Synthetic Fuels Corporation. The program ultimately spent $88 billion subsidizing American oil and gas companies to try to extract petroleum out of oil shale, an enterprise only slightly more cost-effective than trying to wring water from a stone. The SynFuels concept dispensed a lot of taxpayer money to a lot of Democratic interest groups but did nothing to solve the energy crisis.Source
There you go. $88 billion of public money oinked down by Unocal and others in the hog-trough of "early mitigation". That's the cost of mitigating too early.


Speaking of pork, wasn't the Iraq war a $200 billion subsidy for the oil companies and a porkfest for Halliburton?

Coal "synfuels" are still a multi-billion dollar a year tax credit scam 25 years after Jimmy Carter.

And right on cue, the refiners just can't seem to get the job done without another government hand-out:
Bob Slaughter, the president of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, told a House committee last week that Congress could expand tax incentives included in the energy bill as a way to encourage growth of the refining industry.Source: The Hill

Friday, September 16, 2005


A new Pew poll came out a couple of days ago (Sept. 15), and the verdict is in; 57% of the public now believes that energy is more important than the environment: Thanks to the unflagging efforts of environmentalists like Richard Heinberg, great strides have been made in increasing awareness of peak oil. The public is now aware that we're running out of oil, and the solution is (yep, you guessed it): stamping out environmentalism. The gloves are going to come off, and from the standpoint of the Earth Firsters, it's going to look like full scale war on mother nature: ANWR, Florida, Yellowstone, drilling every remaining pristine refuge, strip mining the ocean floor, well-shooting, massive coal and uranium mine tailing ponds, nuking the tar sands, whatever it takes to get those damn gasoline prices under control.

I think there's going to be a lot of disappointment and rage in the "peak oil community". Peak oil was supposed to usher in the new age, but it just ushered in a new age of even more crass exploitation.


Matt Simmons is on a never-ending crusade about "data transparency" in the global oil industry. Here he is speaking on the topic at the Hudson Institute:
And so, basically, I think it's time to take really seriously an era of real data reform, and create some real transparency that means something. You know, if we were all the owners of a refrigerator company or let's say BMW, and we just designed a fabulous new line of cars, and these cars are going to sell like hotcakes and then someone says, “You know, look, the only thing that makes us a little nervous is that we have one steel mill that provides us with all of our rolled steel, but we have actually, we lost their phone number, but I just found it, and I said, “how good are your steel mills?” And they say, “Oh, our steel mills are in great shape.” Don't you think that we would want to send someone there, and actually check them out, to just make sure they were ready? And I think it's time to check them out and a total - I am not talking about Saudi Aramco; I am talking about every single oil producer on earth that wants to be counted serious, including Exxon, BP - the whole nine yards - because we are too close to the edge - and my solution (and there are probably a lot of better solutions) but the only advantage to this is that it could be done by the end of the year is that we enforce, hopefully voluntarily, we enforce timely production of field-by-field production.Source
Despite the spaghetti grammar, I think we all get the drift of that last sentence. Basically, we're talking about a team of first-world inspectors "enforcing" oilfield checks in sovereign nations like Saudi Arabia because it's a matter of U.S. national security. Sort of an extension of the arms inspectors they sent into Iraq. (In fact, you can regard oil as arms. It's like the South African attorney said in #96: "oil likely falls within the definition of munitions of war".) It's obvious why the Saudis and other nations will not allow that. It's an infringement of sovereignty.

How come Simmons never mentions the Russians? Doesn't he want to inspect their arms too? It seems to me their oil production is a lot more likely to collapse than the Saudis. But strangely, he doesn't mention the Russians (or the Venezuelans, or anybody else for that matter). After the obligatory "all nations need to get on board", he always hammers the Saudis. Maybe it's because Russia and Chavez are going to tell him to buzz off.

Transparency is also hypocritical, as usual. Simmons' argument: "Despite the fact that Saudi oil numbers are state secrets, they pose huge potential risks to mankind, so we have a right to know them." You could make the same argument about secret bio-weapons programs in the U.S. Why don't we have some transparency there? If "trust us" isn't enough from the Saudis, then it isn't enough from the U.S. either.

Note the veiled threat, where Simmons says "enforce, hopefully voluntarily" in the quote above. The Saudis are right to resist it.

It's sort of like the junky telling the dealer: "I'm going to enforce an inventory of the dope in your closet, hopefully voluntary, to check whether there's plenty in there for me to use."

To which the dealer says: "First of all, it ain't your dope, and second, how do you plan to enforce it? Stop buying?"


Seems like just yesterday that everybody was razzing the Russians cause we kicked their commie asses in the Cold War. For a while, they even seemed to drift off the world stage... A superpower reduced to the status of a bum. Meanwhile, the US was taking laps around the stadium and waving the flag, while the home crowd chanted "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!"

That whole period is likely to be a source of great amusement for the Russians in the near future. With their massive remaining fossil fuel endowment (#1 in gas reserves, #2 in coal reserves, pumping 8.8mbd of crude while only consuming 2.7mbd), now it's America that's starting to look like the bum. The whole resource war option is off the table: nobody's going to be taking Russia's fuels, because anybody who tries is going to get a nuclear bloody nose. Ain't no options left, except to beg. In fact, all the bums are queueing up: Europe, China, Japan, the US. Yes, that's gonna be real satisfying when the US puts out its shaky junky palm for a hand-out. In the spirit of Francis Fukuyama, we might call that the "Denouement of History" -- you know, the witty chapter after the "End".

It does make you wonder how long the fiction of the "free" crude/gas market is going to last. The Russkies have damn near cornered the market, and it's only a matter of time til they start dragging their feet, exercising their cartel powers, and vacuuming out the wallets of their addict customers. Personally -- if I were a commie, and not the red-blooded stars & stripes American that I am -- I wouldn't release a drop until the whole G7 lined up and kissed V. I. Lenin's freeze-dried bunghole.

Reagan was right. Those Russians are evil. A bunch of conniving commie chess players. They totally faked us out with geopolitical Rope-a-Dope... Pretending like they collapsed for 15 years, so they could come back and whip us in the last round.


The reserve/production (R/P) ratio is often used as a shorthand way of indicating how long current reserves will last at current production rates. The peak oilers often criticize this ratio (and rightfully so) because it fails to take growth into account. For example, at present the U.S. has about 270,000 million short tons (MMst) of coal, and a production rate of about 1,000MMst per year. Dividing, we obtain an R/P ratio of about 270. This is where the sound bite "we have more than 200 years of coal left" comes from. It's true that this neglects the effects of growth in demand, but it also neglects the effects of growth in reserves (which occurs as previously uneconomical deposits become exploitable due to higher prices and improved technology). The R/P ratio definitely has defects as an indicator of how long a reserve will last, but it is useful for reducing a large reserve number to a human scale. It's a lot more comprehensible to the layman to say "we have 270 years of coal left at current mining rates" than to say "we have 270 billion short tons of coal reserves". In that sense, the R/P ratio is useful.

That said, let's take a different tangent. Let's look at the reciprocal of the R/P ratio -- i.e. the P/R ratio. This ratio is interesting because it gives an indication of how fast coal can be mined. Granted this is a rough estimate, but it seems reasonable to conjecture that the maximum speed at which a country can mine coal (in MMst per year) is a function of the size of that country's reserves.

The following Table gives the P/R ratios for all countries which are significant players in coal mining. Reserve figures are recoverable reserves as of 2002 from the DOE's Annual Energy Review 2004 (P. 323). Production figures are from 2003, obtained from the same Annual Energy Review (P. 325), and the DOE international coal production spreadsheet located here(excel file). Reserve figures are given in MMst, and production figures are given in MMst/year. Click on the Table for a clearer view.Some countries, like Brazil, Pakistan and Russia, have substantial coal reserves which they are exploiting at a very low speed. In terms of R/P ratio, Brazil's reserves will last for about 2,000 years at the current rate, and Russia's massive deposits will last for about 590 years. As noted above, the figure for the U.S. is about 270 years. On the other hand, we have countries which are mining at high speed like the Czech Republic (see #36), China, Germany and the UK -- which have R/P ratios of 87 years, 77 years, 32 years and 8 years, respectively.

A common doomer argument is that coal will not be able to save the day because it cannot be mined fast enough, but these numbers give us a rough indication of how fast coal can be mined. For example, the U.S. currently mines 1,072MMst/year. If the U.S. were to mine coal at a rate comparable to that of China (the world's largest coal producer), the figures indicate that the U.S. could mine 3,507MMst per year, or roughly 3 times what it is mining now. That's a lot of coal. In fact, on a btu basis, it is almost enough to replace all primary energy currently provided by oil and natural gas. On the other hand, if all of that coal were liquefied at the usual thermal efficiency of 65% (see the coal liquefaction energy flow diagram in #94), it would be equivalent to about 22 million barrels per day of liquid fuel -- i.e. roughly the amount of oil which the U.S. consumes today.

The situation can be furthered improved if the U.S. adopts a nuclear electricity strategy like that of France (see #42). If nuclear generators are installed to eliminate coal generators, natural gas can be substituted with coal gas, and oil can be substituted with coal liquefaction (see #43). In this way, the entire economy can run on nuclear power and coal.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Matt Simmons is all mixed up. As we saw in #97, just a couple of days ago he was claiming we could lose 75-90% of world oil production by 2030. What's his solution? Drill ANWR -- which might (if the drillers luck out) produce 500,000 barrels a day for 10 years.

How in the world is that going to help? If we're going to lose 75-90% of world oil production by 2030, car culture is dead. The dealer is going to run out of dope. So what good is one last "hit" going to do? Wouldn't it be more proactive to begin the quitting process by implementing demand side measures like carpooling, speed restrictions, telecommuting, land use planning, driving bans etc. -- as described in the IEA Report Saving Oil in a Hurry: Measures for Rapid Demand Restraint in Transport(pdf)? (For an extensive list of demand side measures from the IEA report, see #35.)

According to Matt himself, there's a very real possibility that NOBODY will be driving a private auto in 2030, so why not get our feet wet?

The IEA Report (P. xii) states that the U.S. could reduce its fuel consumption by about 10% simply by enforcing car pooling and speed restrictions. That's about 1 million barrels a day -- or twice what ANWR is going to produce even in the best case scenario. Furthermore, those savings aren't going to deplete like ANWR. They also won't contribute to global warming, so you might save a few bucks on Gulf Coast city reconstruction, if you catch my drift.

One of the funnier parts of the transcript cited below is where Simmons says: "We can also never wean the country [i.e. the U.S.] from imported oil..."

Matt, with all due respect, if world oil production is going to be down 75-90% in 2030, the U.S. is going to get weaned hard. Like so hard their eyeballs are going to pop out and rot. Your little trickle from ANWR is going to be like a band-aid for President Kennedy's head wound.

Transcript of Matthew R. Simmons, testifying on the topic of CAFE standards before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, April 3, 2001
Mr. Simmons. Let me give just two examples to illustrate this point. If we suddenly had a fleet of one million 80-mile-per-gallon vehicles on our roads taking the place of one million average automobiles, this would only save 50 thousand barrels of oil use each day. Ten wells or less in the deep water Gulf of Mexico produces an equivalent energy amount. Refrigerator----
The Chairman. Could you repeat that?
Mr. Simmons. If we created a fleet of one million 80-mile-per-gallon cars and they replaced one million conventional cars, that would save 50 thousand barrels a day. Not much.


The Chairman. I am sorry. Mr. Simmons, you were pretty much highlighting CAFE, too.
Mr. Simmons. The 80-miles-per-gallon car.
The Chairman. Go ahead.
Mr. Simmons. You know, first of all I did that analysis myself, so I know the number is right. It is actually 49,600 barrels per day.
The Chairman. Just give us--slow us down again so we pick it up.
Mr. Simmons. You take an 80-mile-per-gallon car----
The Chairman. An 80-mile-per-gallon car. Do we have any of those now?
Mr. Simmons. No, we have a prototype that will be out in 2004. It is an imaginary----
The Chairman. We have got a 56-mile-per-gallon car if you want to buy one. Toyota makes one, Nissan makes one.
Mr. Simmons. And what we do is we replace that car with a car that gets an average of 17 miles a gallon, because if you take the vehicle fleet, that is our average today, and the delta is the savings. So a million 80-mile-per-gallon cars is a phenomenal concept, but it does not make a dent, a single dent.
The Chairman. A million 80-gallon cars would save us how much oil?
Mr. Simmons. 50 thousand barrels a day.
The Chairman. 50 thousand barrels a day, and we consume 19----
Mr. Simmons. Well, we are getting up a little over 20 million during the seasonal peaks, so it has absolutely no relevance. It is a great concept.
The Chairman. Okay, well--50 thousand barrels a day is what you would save if you had one million cars that go to 80. And how many cars do we have in this country? Somebody figured it out.
Mr. Simmons. 220 million vehicles.
The Chairman. 220 million. Well, I do not know if you could stretch the car buyers to that point.Source

Monday, September 12, 2005


It's hard to shake the impression that environmental peak oilers are being incredibly naive and stupid thinking that Matt Simmons is a "hero".

It seems to me that Matt Simmons isn't an investment banker. His current "job" is to talk up peak oil in the media, and scare the shit out of everybody so oil industry lobbyists can pressure Congress into drilling ANWR. He's a tool of Dick Cheney. He also contributed $100,000 to George Bush's last inauguration party (Source). And all the fool environmentalists like Heinberg are just getting used. They're a bunch of poultry deferentially inviting the wolf to speak in the hen house.

Exhibit A: Matt Simmons has been obsessed with opening ANWR for years, even prior to his peak oil activism (see transcript at the bottom of the post). And he's still obsessed with it. His most recent interview on peak oil appeared in Petroleum News on Sept. 11, 2005. Here's the headline of the story:
Saudi oil shock ahead
Simmons pokes holes in image of unlimited Middle East oil; prepare for worst
And here's the first two sentences:
As Congress turns to legislation that could open a new era of Alaska Arctic oil production, one highly regarded energy analyst says he's convinced the move is critical to the success of a national energy strategy.

Matthew R. Simmons, author of "Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy," (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2005), says crude from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's 1.5-million-acre coastal plain could play a valuable role in the nation's energy policy.
Seems like a disconnect, doesn't it? Actually, there's no disconnect at all.
Matt Simmons is turning up the "Saudi collapse" rhetoric to create a climate of fear which will result in the U.S. Senate signing off on drilling in ANWR. Yes, it's just another amazing coincidence that Simmons is fearmongering like never before, just as the provisions on ANWR are entering a delicate phase in the Senate:
The Senate Energy committee was scheduled to meet September 14 to vote on language for the federal budget that would raise an estimated $2.4 billion from leasing tracts in ANWR to energy companies for oil exploration.

That language would then be forwarded to the Senate Budget Committee, which would fold it into the giant budget bill that funds the federal government.

However, after Senate and House leaders decided to delay crafting the budget package for at least two weeks, the energy panel said it postponed its meeting on the ANWR drilling language.Source
Matt's really pulling out the stops on this current fear-mongering tour. Check this out:
But by 2030 we could easily have a world that can only produce 10 or 15 or 20 million barrels per day, and the shortfall from what we thought we were going to produce is only a modest 100 million barrels per day. So this is really a major, major, major global issue(Source: Petroleum News article cited above. Also see Note* at the bottom).
This is nothing but pure lobbyist FUD, a load of major, major, major bullshit that nobody agrees with. Nobody believes world oil production will be 10-20mbd in 2030 -- not Exxon/Mobil, not Shell, not the USGS, not the DOE, not Sadad Al Husseini (see #89), not Colin Campbell, not ASPO, not Jean Laherrere... Nobody. Simmons is talking out his ass. He is not a petroleum engineer, or a geologist, and he has a sum total of zero first hand knowledge of reservoir engineering, and zero first hand knowledge of the Saudi oil fields -- the two subjects on which he is now respectfully regarded as the world's foremost expert.

This is all just part of a trend. Boone Pickens is all over the media hyping peak oil because every time oil ticks up he nets an obscene profit (see #12). Chevron is all over the media hyping peak oil because it helped them muscle out CNOOC and lock up the Unocal deal (see #80, #82). And Matt Simmons is all over the media hyping peak oil because he wants to drill ANWR and tend to his own bread and butter as a deal architect for the oil and gas industry.

Personally, it's not drilling ANWR that bothers me. Energy is important, and we will have to drill ANWR at some point -- with the proper environmental protections in place, of course. The question I have is this: What the hell are we going to do with the oil we pump out of ANWR? If we're going to use it to fuel the status quo -- i.e. 10-mile long traffic jams every morning, and the Ford Explorer of Amanda P. Suburbia driving all over town to find just the right frisbee for her dog -- then I'm firmly against it. I don't care how environmentally sound the drilling process is. That's just greenwashing, because that oil is just going to get wasted in passenger car engines, and that isn't environmentally sound, or even necessary.

Note*) There was some controversy about whether Simmons actually said this, so I contacted the editor-in-chief of Petroleum News. The author, Rose Ragsdale, confirms that the quote is genuine, and there is an audio recording of Simmons making the comment, verbatim.

Note from JD) This discussion is continuing in the Peak Oil Debunked Forum
Transcript of Matthew R. Simmons, testifying on the topic of ANWR before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, April 3, 2001 (Read the original too. Matt does a long spiel pooh-poohing fuel-efficient vehicles. Conservation isn't going to cut it, doncha know. The only thing that's going to help is drilling ANWR ANWR ANWR...):
At the end of the day, we have to increase our domestic supply of oil and natural gas, but getting this done requires fast action by both public and private sectors to begin eliminating all of the obstacles that now make it so hard to make real gains in the supply of either domestic gas or oil.
Access to where these reserves reside is obviously extremely important. While it is politically popular to attack the need to open up a few thousand acres of ANWR, this important area could create several hundred thousand barrels a day of extra oil and natural gas, and possibly even far more. So it is too important to abandon. It is time for ANWR's opponents to stop broadcasting photographs of pristine alpine mountain meadows of areas within the 19 million acre reserve which happen to be hundreds of miles away from where any oil and gas development would ever take place.
Lease Sale 181 in the eastern portion of the Gulf of Mexico is just as vital as ANWR, perhaps even more so. This highly gas-prone area is over 100 miles west of Florida at its closest point, but it is right next to the most efficient infrastructure to bring these reserves to where they can be
The Department of the Interior is just beginning a critically important survey or inventory of all of the reserve prospects to the lower 48 States. I would highly encourage expanding this inventory assessment to the entire Outer Continental Shelf of the United States, including the waters offshore of California. This exercise does not commit any area to development, it would merely help identify where emergency relief might be found.
How tragic it would be to see the economy of a State like California destroyed through a lack of natural gas and electricity, all because natural gas lying just off its coast was never developed.Source


I think we've all heard how South Africa (SA) survived the Apartheid-era oil embargo by producing synthetic fuels from coal.

So why didn't South Africa collapse? They went off a cliff from the "subsidy of cheap oil" as people like to say. They stepped back down from high EROEI oil, and reverted to crappy old low EROEI coal. Granted, the South Africans had access to limited amounts of smuggled oil, but it was expensive. In that sense, South Africa is an almost exact analog of peak oil. Peak oil does not mean a complete closing of the taps. At least in its initial stages, it means higher oil prices, and an embargo-like degradation of supply -- very similar to what happened in SA. SA coped with it to some degree by liquefying coal, and (judging from the Hirsch Report(pdf)) that is part of the U.S. "Plan B":
1. Fuel efficient transportation
2. Heavy oil/Oil sands
3. Coal liquefaction
4. Enhanced oil recovery
5. Gas-to-liquids
SA did have economic problems, but the worst case scenario didn't pan out. This seems even more astounding considering that mining (a very oil intensive process) is the backbone of the South African economy.

I find the details of what happened in SA during the embargo fascinating. They give us clues about how a developed nation responds to liquid fuel stress.


Apparently, the infrastructure needed to dig coal was so expensive that SA is now switching to GTL (Gas-to-Liquid) to save money:
Under the belief that partially replacing coal with natural gas as the synthetic-fuel feedstock would reduce investment expenditures in coal mining operations, Sasol began importing gas from Mozambique in 2004.Source
The following are some interesting tidbits from a SA court case:
288. Oil was the one major raw material not produced (except synthetically from coal) in South Africa. The Apartheid regime established a high degree of control over the industry in its attempt to ensure a constant supply of oil.

289. Without oil, the police and military could not have functioned and the economy of South Africa would have come to a standstill. The South African regime took a number of steps to ensure an adequate supply of oil.

290. In November 1978, in response to the fall of the Shah and the decision by Iran to join the oil embargo, then-Minister of Economic Affairs Chris Heunis, called a meeting with the managing directors of the oil companies. He met with them in alphabetical order: BP, Caltex, Mobil, Sasol, Shell, then Total and told them each "Our petrol pumps must stay wet."

300. Mobil received from its South African attorneys the following legal advice: "[a]s oil is absolutely vital to enable the army to move, the navy to sail and the air force to fly, it is likely that a South African court would hold that it falls within the definition of munitions of war."

349. In order to reduce its vulnerability to oil sanctions, South Africa began a coal to oil conversion program. The Apartheid regime expected to be able to meet up to 50% of its oil needs from this program. SASOL - the South African Coal, Oil and Gas Corporation, was a state controlled company formed to oversee the oil from coal program. Three plants were to be built. SASOL II and III constituted the largest and most expensive project undertaken by the South African government.

357. The Natref refinery had been regarded a National Key Point of the South African economy even before the adoption of the Act. A South African army journal explained the role of the ‘SASOL Commando,' a unit comprised of SASOL employees: "When the men of the SASOL Commando change their white coats for the uniform of the South African Defense Force they become members of a specialized unit, which in times of war will defend two key points of the South African nation. The SASOL factory ... and the Natref Refinery are two of the most important installations in the country. The importance of the task which the SASOL Commandos have in defending these two key points cannot be overemphasized."Source
From a study of the impact of sanctions:
In late 1970s, early 1980s, South Africa depends on oil for less than 20 percent of its total energy needs, but 80 percent of energy needs of transport sector. Moreover, South Africa has stockpiled at least one to two years' supply and is completing two nuclear power plants, a third Sasol coal-conversion plant. By one estimate, the stockpile would entail "tying up $1-$4 billion or more in capital, depending on acquisition price." In 1990 it is estimated that Sasol plants provide one-third of South Africa's oil consumption. Some estimates of total cost of oil embargo, including price premium on imports, costs of stockpiling, costs of construction and operation of Sasol plants, fall in range of $1 billion to $2 billion. Others question magnitude of these estimates, noting that some South Africans (e.g., dealers and shippers) have gained from embargo, and that South Africa might have pursued coal-conversion technology in any case after 1973-74 oil shock. (Chettle 82; Spandau 153-55; Lewis 60, 103; Lipton 1988, 86-87)

Direct costs [of the oil embargo] have more than doubled South Africa's oil import bill… Direct costs of the oil embargo in the 1980's equaled South Africa's gross foreign debt, which by the end of the decade was estimated at between $15 to 20 billion. Indeed, had the oil embargo not been imposed, the 1985 South African debt crisis would probably not have emerged… In addition to these direct costs, economic activity in South Africa suffered from spillover effects to other markets and opportunity costs, while the country's long-term development was hurt… Economic activity in South Africa has also been hampered by the fact that fewer new technologies became available to the country during the implementation of sanctions."(Van Bergejik 343-344)

Economist Stephen Lewis estimates that oil embargo, other trade sanctions impose cost on South Africa of $2 billion a year, primarily in terms-of-trade effects.

On the oil embargo: "The oil embargo has probably been the costliest international action against South Africa to date.... However, the decisions forced on South Africa by the oil boycott have resulted not only in higher costs. The SASOL projects, for example, have pushed South Africa into international leadership in coal conversion technology.... Policy actions by the government effectively mitigated both the economic costs and the disruption of the oil embargo, and South Africa is in a better position today to meet short-term cutoffs in oil than it was a decade or two ago." (Lewis 103-04)Source


Some doomers say the U.S. can't conserve oil, and can't crack down on the private automobile because waste is the foundation of the U.S. economy. For instance, MonteQuest (a doomer moderator at is fond of saying that one out of every six jobs in the U.S. is tied to the automotive industry. His position is that waste=jobs. We have to be wasteful to keep people employed, and any attempt to reduce consumption or car use will cause an economic collapse.

This is incorrect, as can be seen from the following chart of U.S. automobile production:
Note the big dip for WWII. This shows that society can still function, even if fuel is rationed and passenger car production is swiftly ramped down to very low levels.
In fact, in terms of production volumes, the economy performed superbly during WWII. Look at these aircraft production numbers:

1939: 2,141
1940: 6,086
1941: 19,433
1942: 47,836
1943: 85,898
1944: 96,318
1945: 46,001Source

This shows the sort of focused, rapid production scale-up industry can achieve when it has to.

Sunday, September 11, 2005


Energy flow diagrams are useful for visualizing where energy comes from and where it goes. In this post, I will collect a number of diagrams for reference purposes (click on the image or the source for a clearer picture):

Source: US Energy Flow Trends(pdf), P. 2, 3

U.S. Energy Flow, 2004
Source: DOE, Annual Energy Review 2004

U.S. Petroleum Flow, 2004

Source: DOE, Annual Energy Review 2004

U.S. Natural Gas Flow, 2004

Source: DOE, Annual Energy Review 2004

U.S. Coal Flow, 2004

Source: DOE, Annual Energy Review 2004

U.S. Electricity Flow, 2004

Source: DOE, Annual Energy Review 2004

Energy Flow Diagram, Coal Liquefaction, Liquid Solvent Extraction (LSE) Process
Source: Technology Status Report: Coal Liquefaction(pdf), Department of Trade and Industry (UK)

Material Flow in the U.S. Food System


More flow diagrams


Finally, a first world government starts using its head. From the Independent Online:
Secret plan to ration fuel on the forecourt
Ministers draw up crisis strategy to combat petrol protests as prices soar
By Francis Elliott, Deputy Political Editor
Published: 11 September 2005

Motorists face rationing at petrol stations under emergency plans that are being drawn up by ministers to combat this week's fuel protests, The Independent on Sunday has learnt.

Ministers met secretly last week to finalise the Government's response to blockades of Britain's refineries threatened for Wednesday.

Petrol prices - which passed the £1-a-litre mark in the wake of Hurricane Katrina - are expected to remain at record highs in the coming weeks because of damaged refineries on the US Gulf Coast.

Soaring petrol prices are likely to add to growing demands for fuel tax cuts and further encourage militant hauliers and farmers into taking direct action in order to force the Government's hand.

Planned measures to combat a successful blockade include rationing of supplies, limiting the hours during which petrol can be sold and reserving some filling stations for "priority users". Source


This is a radical development which could greatly increase carrying capacity (i.e. the ability of the earth to feed large numbers of people using fewer resources). Quorn is mycoprotein -- a meat-like food produced by fungi from corn syrup, ammonia and air. In short, it is protein grown in vats. It is vastly more efficient as a protein source than the chicken or cow. Its production requires far less water and land than conventional protein, and it produces less waste. Furthermore, it is a viable commercial product, right now.

I've tried this stuff, and it was quite good. The response was also positive at a taste test at Wired Magazine:
For about an hour on Thursday, the office went a bit Quorn crazy, with 10 or so people popping into the coffee bar to taste this advanced food. The feedback was mostly positive. Everyone liked it, and some people said they loved it. Several said that the nuggets were indistinguishable from chicken, and others said that while they could taste a difference, they thought Quorn was very similar to meat.Source
More mycoprotein facts:
Many attempts have been made to manufacture foods that are rich in protein as cheaper alternatives to meat. Microorganisms can be made to grow on some industrial or agricultural waste materials (e.g. paper, wood sugar-refining waste) that contain the right balance of nutrients. They can produce protein rapidly and efficiently. In addition, protein products from microorganisms, such as the commercially available mycoprotein Quorn, are suitable for vegetarians.Source
One calculation suggests that the protein requirements of 1 billion people could be satisfied by a vat protein facility covering only 4 square kilometers of land. (Source: How Many People Can the Earth Support?, Joel E. Cohen, P. 327).


Call me a party-pooper, but I'm a little wary of peak oil websites that try to sell me something. My alarm bells start going off when I see the little shopping cart icon.
Have you folks buzzed over to the LATOC (Life After the Oil Crash) Store run by peak oil marketing genius, Matt Savinar? Apparently they've got these nifty tote bags coming out in October:

Stylish White-On-Black LATOC
Reusable Shopping Bag Made From
Recycled Materials
Expected Price: $14-$17
Available October 2005

Thanks Matt! I owe you so much for opening my eyes to peak oil. I don't know about you, but I've got my credit card out already. I'm sure a stylish LATOC shopping bag will come in real handy once civilization as we know it has ended, and the global monetary system has collapsed.
I think I'll also get me one of those bitchin' From the Wilderness Tees to go with it:
And the Peak Oil Medical care special offer:

You know yer gonna need those books because the modern medical system is utterly dependent on crude oil. They pump it into the back of hospital facilities through 15" hoses.


Let's recall the "die-off" scenario, as concisely described by Wikipedia
Some envisage a Malthusian catastrophe occurring as oil becomes increasingly inefficient to produce. Since the 1940s, agriculture has dramatically increased its productivity, due largely to the use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and increased mechanisation. This process has been called the Green Revolution. The increase in food production has allowed world population to grow dramatically over the last 50 years. Pesticides rely upon oil as a critical ingredient, and fertilizers require both oil and natural gas. Farm machinery also requires oil. Arguing that in today's world every joule one eats requires 5-15 joules to produce and deliver, some have speculated that a decreasing supply of oil will cause modern industrial agriculture to collapse, leading to a drastic decline in food production, food shortages and possibly even mass starvation.Source
This is complete bollocks, as we have seen from numerous previous articles (see #15, #22, #28, #46, #48, #55, #72, #76, #84 and #87), but fertilizers are a key factor, so let's look at them once again, and see where they actually go.

In 1999, corn (maize) accounted for about 41% of all fertilizer consumption in the U.S. The exact breakdown by fertilizer type was:
N (Nitrogen): 40.58%
P2O5 (Phosphate): 39.45%
K2O (Potash): 41.89% (Source: U.S. Fertilizer Application Rates, The Fertilizer Institute)

Where does all that corn go? You can see in the following chart:

Most U.S. corn is used to feed livestock (dark blue); another large chunk is used for ethanol (purple); another large chunk is exported (yellow); and another large chunk goes into stocks (green). The part consumed by humans, directly as food, is a subset of the orange band, which represents FSI (Food, Seed and Industrial). This category also includes high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) which is a component of soft drinks, juices and ice cream, and a major cause of obesity. The USDA notes: "Food and starch, other segments of FSI use, are mature markets and projected gains largely reflect population growth."

This is further evidence that human beings aren't even close to the point of die-off due to the inability to produce enough food from the earth.

Here's another interesting data point from the Fertilizer Institute (click on the image for a clearer picture):

From the report:
Since 1980, corn production has increased by 57.8 percent. Interestingly, that increase was achieved using less nitrogen fertilizer. Notably, in 1980, nearly 6.395 billion bushels of corn were produced using 5.245 million tons of nitrogen. However by 2003, U.S. corn production soared to 10.089 billion bushels, even as the amount of nitrogen fertilizer used dropped to 5.14 million tons. Source
So, as we've seen earlier (#84), growth in the food supply is not dependent on growth in production of nitrogen fertilizer, and thus is not dependent on growth in the supply of oil or natural gas.