|Francis de Winter|
Reading Material on the Bleak Future We Can Expect in Petroleum and Natural Gas as Sources of Energy
Because of petroleum and natural gas depletion, the world is about to enter the final and permanent period of petroleum and natural gas scarcity: the period beyond the "Hubbert Peaks" in oil and gas. Humanity will be forced to convert the world to renewable (i.e. sustainable) energy sources. This will provide great opportunities for many groups and people, and force many existing firms and countries to decide whether to adapt and change or whether to waste away.
It will be difficult for humanity to keep this process of conversion on track: to keep it civilized and non-violent. The oil war that the US and UK Administrations unleashed in Iraq (based on changing excuses, all of which were false and continue being false), and the continuing escalation of US soldier and civilian fatalities, show how easy it is for things to get out of control. Before the war in Iraq, Iraq posed no danger to the USA, and was of no significant assistance to Al Qaeda or to other terrorist groups of any great danger to the USA. The war in Iraq has instead created a danger to the USA, a perfect place for terrorists to go for inflicting harm on the USA. The USA may not be able to get out of Iraq very gracefully, and it is not clear that the Middle East will become any more stable because of the current US involvement.
Curiously enough, Dr. Farrington Daniels, the main founder of the International Solar Energy Society (ISES), already had a very clear view in this area many years ago. In his 1964 book: Direct Use of the Sun's Energy (Ballantine Books), on page 3 he mentioned that the peak oil production of the US would come in five years, and that worldwide oil scarcity could be expected within half a century. He was so close that he must have seen the work of Hubbert (see Refs. 17, 18).
Here I am including many references on publications of the most highly respected petroleum geologists. There are many new books coming out, and already one runs into an increasing number of people who suspect (based on increasing prices, oil conflicts, etc.) that we are getting to the final period of oil and natural gas scarcity. Just a few years from now it will be quite impossible for many people to be as oblivious to oil and gas depletion as they are now. Instead, it is likely that there will be a sudden and widespread awareness, as described by Malcolm Gladwell in his book: The Tipping Point - How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Little, Brown, & Co., NY 2000. Renewable energy and energy efficiency may suddenly become widely recognized to be of crucial importance to the population of the USA, and society may increase the taxes on fossil fuels to force the consumption down.
Humanity is very close to the point of permanent scarcity of natural gas and petroleum due to resource depletion, and it will take an enormous effort for humanity to change to a sustainable energy system, yet almost all people and governments seem to be oblivious to the problems ahead. This document is essentially an annotated bibliography on the available reading material on oil and gas depletion, in books, journals, newspapers, websites, etc.
Since around 1860 we have lived in an increasingly unrestrained petroleum era. Almost everything became powered by petroleum as soon as people could figure out a way to do it. New oil fields were developed, and new wells were drilled, as soon as the increasing demands of the market made them viable. For many years natural gas was flared as an undesirable waste product because it was so expensive to transport, but now it has become a prime fuel. Until now the cost of oil "production" and gas "production" has been very low. "Production" is really a misleading term, for fuel is being extracted and not produced. Because until now the "production" has generally been able to exceed the market demand, the market price has generally been very low, much lower than that of any other mineral resource or almost any other commodity. The only cost people considered real was the cost of "production." The real value of the fossil fuels, now or in the future, has never been factored into the costs. The environmental costs of fossil fuel combustion, the "externalities," have rarely been factored in either. People have not yet experienced lasting oil and gas scarcity, and they seem to prefer not to think about it.
In the early 1970s the world experienced the "Energy Crisis," a quite artificial event caused by an oil embargo imposed by some members of OPEC. They felt that the USA and the Netherlands had provided excessively unfair support to Israel, and reduced their oil shipments in protest. This "Energy Crisis" had a major impact on human behavior and interests, but the repeated "oil gluts" that came afterwards made it clear that this "Energy Crisis" had not been caused by the depletion of the oil fields of the world.
Dr. Marion King Hubbert, a renowned petroleum geologist working for Shell Oil, first described in the late 1940s the effects of depletion that would become noticeable when the recoverable oil was used up by approximately 50%, whether this was in a specific oil field, a region, or the whole world (see Ref. 17 below). Around that time the effect of the depletion of old wells would begin to exceed any new production that could be added with new wells, it would become quite impossible to make the total oil "production" increase any more, and production would reach its peak (now often called the "Hubbert Peak") and start on its permanent and inexorable period of decline. It would be the first indication humanity got of resource depletion or scarcity, but after that the effects of depletion (for that field, that region, or the whole world) would be obvious and permanent, and after the world Hubbert Peak of crude oil the world would be forced to change to more permanent or sustainable energy sources. Many thousands of oil fields, and most of the oil producing regions or nations are now already well beyond their own Hubbert Peak. Very few countries have not yet gotten to their Hubbert Peak, and most of these are in the Middle East, a politically volatile area.
The decline is quite inexorable and lasting. Over 140 years after the US oil era started in Pennsylvania, there are still about 20,000 active oil wells in Pennsylvania, producing an average of about 1/4 barrel each per day. The oil production of the whole state is less than half as much as that of one good well in Saudi Arabia.
Hubbert's first paper on this Hubbert Peak mechanism was presented in 1948 and published in 1949 (see Ref. 17 below). In 1956 he predicted that the oil "Hubbert Peak" for the lower 48 US states would happen around 1970, and this was very accurate, despite much opposition and ridicule. In the 1960s and 1970s he predicted (Ref. 18) that the world Hubbert Peak would happen around 1995. The 1970s "Energy Crisis" reduced oil consumption, delaying the world Hubbert Peak about 15 years (see Ref. 18), but it is expected to happen around 2010 at the latest (Ref. 10) but more likely around 2007, and the world natural gas production peak will come at most 15 years later (Ref. 10).
The world has paid little attention to the local (oil field and regional) oil Hubbert Peaks, because until now it has always been possible to satisfy local demand by bringing in oil from elsewhere. Once we get to the world oil Hubbert peak, that will no longer be possible, and the political and financial impacts will be very significant and may be quite sudden. Because of the high cost of oceanic (LNG) natural gas transportation, it is however the local peaks and not the world peak in natural gas that are of most importance.
We are about to experience a real energy crisis, and this time it will not go away. It will involve both natural gas and oil. Depletion of the natural gas resources has brought on the production peak, the "Hubbert Peak" of natural gas in the North American continent, and we can expect permanently high prices for natural gas in the USA, Canada, and Mexico. Increasing the amount of natural gas imported by LNG tankers will not reduce the price of natural gas, since LNG transportation is very expensive, and since it takes a very long time to set up a high volume LNG transportation system. LNG tankers are also very vulnerable to terrorism and very dangerous, so they have a formidable NIMBY opposition. The world Hubbert Peak in crude oil is expected around the year 2007 or even 2006 (2010 at the latest), and heavy oil, tar sands, natural gas liquids, oil from oil shale, and other forms of "unconventional oil" will not be of much help in keeping the price of liquid fuels down at that time (see Ref. 10).
Energy scarcity will make it necessary to adopt renewable energy sources. With renewable energy it will theoretically be possible to do nearly everything we can do with oil, but we will have to adjust our lifestyles to be much more frugal. The lavish types of energy services we have enjoyed with artificially low oil prices will simply not be affordable when we have to pay the real costs to get these services using renewable energy.
Oil and gas scarcity may lead to oil wars and other violent conflicts, like the US oil war in Iraq. The US is bound to be disappointed in Iraq, since the wars of colonial conquest that worked so well before the 20th century can no longer work these days. The colonized are no longer ignorant, docile, and isolated. They are now highly literate and heavily armed, they include women and children, and the phone, the fax machine, the internet, and the news media reach everywhere. There is likely to be no end to the violent opposition the US is finding in Iraq, and as it found earlier (apparently without learning any lessons) in Vietnam. The colonized are now likely to use the US polls as a feedback mechanism, to escalate their violence until they have convinced the US public to pull out the troops and to kick the "neoconservatives" out of the White House. The recent elections in Spain can serve as an illustration. Pax Romana and Pax Britanica may well have been possible centuries ago, but Pax Americana would now be out of the question even if the USA had somebody in the White House with the brains and vision of Caesar.
This document gives some reading suggestions and background on the changes we can expect in energy in the next few years.
My Interest and Involvement in Crude Oil and Natural Gas Depletion Questions
I started working in spacecraft solar power systems at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA around 1966, and later got into terrestrial solar water heating systems around 1970 (my resume can be seen at www.ecotopia.com). Early on I concluded that there would never be any serious political support for solar energy until it became very clear to the general public that the days of plentiful supplies of cheap oil and natural gas were gone, since the political "leadership" hardly ever does anything unless it is forced to do so by an overwhelming public opinion. This got me (and some of my colleagues) interested in oil and gas depletion.
In the early 1970s the OPEC oil embargo produced what became known as the "Energy Crisis," providing humanity with a shortage of oil that was quite artificial. This energy crisis produced enormous benefits in reducing energy waste (see Ref. 18 below) and in producing many new energy specialists, but it did not help the public to get a clear idea on when one might begin to see the impact of real crude oil and natural gas depletion. Virtually all of those making predictions on oil and gas depletion at the time did not know what they were talking about. Some of them felt that oil and gas supplies would last almost forever, and others predicted a near-term scarcity, and then permanently high prices. The petroleum geologist Dr. M. King Hubbert was probably the only one with a clear view of the future, but almost nobody bothered to listen to him. By the late 1970s he was not very actively publishing anymore, and in the late 1980s he died.
In 1994 I heard of a report on oil depletion that had been written by Dr. Colin J. Campbell and Mr. Jean Laherrere with the Petroconsultants group in Geneva, Switzerland. I had a trip scheduled to Europe, and met with Campbell and Laherrere, and also visited the Petroconsultants Geneva office. I arranged for Dr. Campbell to contribute a series of three articles to the SunWorld magazine of the International Solar Energy Society (ISES, see Ref. 13 below), and with my colleague Ron Swenson I started collecting articles of Dr. Campbell and other petroleum geologists, and later established a website that can be reached at www.oilcrisis.com; at www.energycrisis.com; or at www.hubbertpeak.com on the topic of oil and gas depletion. Recently there has been an ever-increasing amount of discussion and publication on this topic, and details on some current publications are shown below.
Recent Publications on Crude Oil and Natural Gas Depletion
It is likely that natural gas depletion and crude oil depletion will rapidly become widely discussed by the public, that the transition to energy sustainability will shape (and change) much of the rest of our lives, and that this will provide a major boost to the solar and wind energy industries. There is already a continuing stream of articles and books on oil and natural gas depletion issues. The Oil and Gas Journal (OGJ), the most prestigious worldwide publication in the oil and gas field, recently published six articles on Future Energy Supply written by Bob Williams, the OGJ Executive Editor. The details follow:
Another recent OGJ article of interest is:
This coverage of the oil and gas depletion issue represents a major change for the OGJ. Until recently the OGJ ignored oil and gas depletion issues, labeling those who talked about those issues as "pessimists." Now the OGJ has jumped into the discussion. One might not agree with everything that is being said, but the OGJ has become actively involved. There is now a very open discussion on oil and gas depletion, in the most prestigious journal in the oil and gas field.
Dr. Walter Youngquist, Prof. Emeritus of petroleum geology at the Univ. of Oregon at Eugene, is considered by many to be the "Dean of Petroleum Geology in the USA." His best-known publication in geology is the book:
Drs. Youngquist and Duncan recently published a detailed paper on the natural gas supply for North America:
A list of books and other publications on the topic of oil and gas depletion follows below:
Some Comments on these Authors
Dr. Campbell earned his doctorate in Petroleum Geology at Oxford, and did very significant petroleum exploratory and resource assessment work in many of the most important oil provinces (i.e. regions) of the world for a number of the important oil companies and oil producing nations during many years. Since his retirement a few years ago he has spent most of his time trying to determine when and how the brief petroleum-powered and natural-gas-powered dream-world we are living in is going to end. Dr. Campbell has concluded that the USA is already at the point of permanent natural gas scarcity (at the natural gas production peak or Hubbert Peak for North America), and that the beginning of permanent worldwide scarcity in petroleum (the world oil Hubbert Peak) is no more than at most 6 years off. In an effort to warn the world, Dr. Campbell has published and spoken very widely. In the next few months he will have an article in the National Geographic magazine.
Mr. Jean LaHerrere is a petroleum geologist who worked with Total, the French national oil company for many years, and was involved in the oil discoveries in Algeria.
Richard Heinberg is an independent researcher who has studied the publications of Dr. Campbell and of many other petroleum geologists, and who agrees that our petroleum and natural gas fueled dream world is coming to an end very soon.
The first publication in which Dr. M. King Hubbert explained that the depletion of crude oil would ultimately produce the "Hubbert Peak," the point at which the production would start on its final and irrevocable decline when resource depletion had made it impossible to make the production increase any more, was:
When I first met Dr. Colin Campbell in France in 1994, the world was quite oblivious to the oil and gas depletion problems. Dr. M. King Hubbert had been dead for about 5 years, and only Dr. Campbell and his colleague Laherrere (and in the USA, L. F. "Buzz" Ivanhoe) seemed to be interested in the depletion question. I helped Ron Swenson, a colleague of mine (and the webmaster), to start the www.oilcrisis.com website (that can also be reached at www.energycrisis.com and at www.hubbertpeak.com) with inputs from Campbell and many others. For years nobody seemed to believe there were any imminent problems, and most people thought we were exaggerating. Now natural gas prices have already increased greatly because of depletion, and the OGJ already ran a major series of articles on depletion. An independent (and more pessimistic) website started by Jay Hanson on the topic of depletion can be reached at: www.dieoff.org. Dr. Campbell's organization, the Association for Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO), can be reached at www.peakoil.net.
On our www.oilcrisis.com website we have posted contributions from: Dr. M. King Hubbert, Dr. Colin J. Campbell, Dr. Walter Youngquist, Dr. Lester B. Magoon, Dr. Albert Bartlett, Dr. Richard Duncan, Mr. Litton F. (Buzz) Ivanhoe, Mr. Jean Laherrere, Dr. Cutler Cleveland, Dr. Robert Kaufmann, Dr. Roger Blanchard, Dr. Kenneth S. Deffeyes, Dr. Richard Heinberg, Dr. Roger W. Bentley, Mr. Matthew Simmons, Dr. Brian Fleay, and others. We also have material from the Gas Research Institute (GRI, now part of GTI), the USGS, the US DOE, and other groups.
Our website has one very interesting talk given by Matthew Simmons at a workshop on world oil and gas depletion held in Uppsala, Sweden in May 2002. Simmons is a prominent investment banker in Houston who specializes in oil and natural gas investments, who is well known and highly trusted by many of the petroleum geologists who have contributed to our website, and who has been in close contact with the George W. Bush White House. Thanks to Simmons, the Bush Administration is very much aware of the current US natural gas Hubbert Peak and of the associated permanent supply problems, but the Administration has done next to nothing to inform the public, or even to inform the program-level people at the US Department of Energy (DOE). To solve the problem, one must increase energy efficiency and cut back on gas consumption to match the declining supply, and for that it is essential to enlist the public, and to involve the staff of the US DOE. As a minimum, DOE staff should at least be kept informed, but even that has not been done, as is discussed below. Solving the problem however does not seem to be a high priority for the Bush Administration. The main interest of the Bush Administration seems to be in drilling more oil and gas wells, so as to increase the wealth of the people in the oil and gas industry.
With the USA beyond the Hubbert Peak in both oil and natural gas, drilling more wells may well increase the wealth of a few people, but it can be of no real help in solving the energy problems of the nation. Once beyond the Hubbert Peak, humanity must not use the oil and gas that is left as fast as possible, in total disregard of its scarcity. Humanity must instead start on a very purposeful and long-range program, to adjust to using less oil and gas, and to use the remaining oil and gas extra carefully, to make the transition to a sustainable society with a minimum of chaos and turmoil. Any effort made to extend the period of high production, so as to make it possible for the public to continue using oil and gas at the current rate, will only make the future more difficult, for it will make the later production decline steeper, and the final adjustment process harder.
There can be no justification for damaging the environment by drilling new gas wells that cause destruction in sensitive areas. Environmental damage must be avoided, by mitigating environmental pollution and destruction, and by factoring the necessary costs into the price of natural gas. One should not simply ignore the environmental problems, the "externalities," as is now being done in drilling for coal bed methane (CBM), as described in the article by Ted Kerasote: "Drilling the Wild," in the Field & Stream magazine October 2003 issue, page 37. Highly polluted water is being pumped out of the coal beds to open up enough pores so that the CBM gas can flow to the wells. Pumping out this water drops the level of the water table so that the local vegetation dies, and the polluted water pumped out of the coal beds ends up in local streams where it destroys the flora and fauna. For more on the current destruction associated with coal bed methane, see the New York Times, December 1, 2003 Editorial Observer section by V. Klinkenborg: "Turning Northeast Wyoming Upside Down in the Hunt for Coal-Bed Methane."
Curiously enough the staff at the US Department of Energy (DOE) still seems quite unaware of the US depletion problems in natural gas. The 2002 SBIR ("Small Business Innovation Research") solicitation of the US DOE (DOE publication DOE/SC-0059, dated October 15, 2002) had two topics with a real Alice in Wonderland touch (see topics 31b and 31d on page 85): asking potential bidders to help the USA get prepared for a world of plenty in natural gas, even as the North American continent was past its Hubbert Peak in natural gas, and the future promised to be one only of scarcity, not of plenty. The more recent 2003 DOE SBIR solicitation (DOE publication DOE/SC-0075, dated October 7, 2003) is not much more realistic than the 2002 edition, for DOE still expects the US natural gas consumption to become 63.6% larger in 2025 than it was in 1997 (see topic 47c on page 123). Apparently DOE expects supply to keep up with demand with no problems. This lack of awareness is not limited to the US DOE SBIR office. Ms. Marjorie Tatro, Director of the US DOE Energy and Transportation Security Center (which has a staff of 180 people) at SANDIA Laboratories, recently presented a technical paper (Ref. 21) at the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) meeting in Austin in which she showed a graph with the US natural gas supply increasing very significantly in the future. She also seemed unaware that the future was one of scarcity, not of plenty. I wrote her a letter (Ref. 22) that has been ignored, and numerous phone calls have not been returned. It is to be hoped that DOE can become more realistic in the future. It is indeed very curious that the US Department of Energy staff is quite unaware of the permanent scarcity of natural gas, when according to Matthew Simmons (a widely known and trusted member of the oil and gas industry, and well known even by Ms. Tatro, as she told me in Austin) the Bush Administration has been completely aware for several years. The Bush Administration seems to be keeping both the staff of the US DOE and the US public in the dark.
Sources of Undue Optimism
The source for much of the undue optimism in natural gas is the Gas Research Institute (GRI, now GTI) in Chicago, which published the following report:
The Gas Research Institute (GRI, which has now been folded into GTI, the Gas Technology Institute) projected that in the year 2015 the USA will have 50% more natural gas available than it had in the year 2000. This was however a projection published in the year 2000, said to be based on post-1998 technology. This is very optimistic, since 1998 was only two years earlier. Based on pre-1998 technology (which is probably more realistic), GRI believed that 15 years from now the USA can expect a supply reduced by 20% or 30%, and not increased by 50%. That is precisely what Dr. Campbell and many others expect, for they have no confidence in GRI's rosy expectations for the "post-1998 technology" future.
It is based on the continued optimism of GRI (shared by GAMA, the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association) that many utilities invested so heavily in combined cycle power plants. Many of these will be obsolete because of high fuel costs before they are even started up. Even in a 58% efficient combined cycle power plant, the natural gas fuel cost per kWh will be higher than the total cost per kWh for wind power plants, and normal gas-fired steam power plants have an efficiency of only about 38%, not 58%. This is confirmed in the October 2003 issue of the "Composites Technology" magazine in an article on "Composites in Wind Energy" (i.e. in large wind turbine blades made of composites) on page 14, in which it is mentioned that the total cost of power from modern wind turbines is already less than 3.5 cents per kWh, whereas just the fuel cost alone for a natural gas-fired power plant is about 5.5 cents per kWh.
The GTI (which has absorbed GRI) still sounds optimistic about the new technology, although the new technology still does not exist. In the Spring 2003 issue of GTI Journal (formerly the GRI Journal), on page 8 there is an article with the title: "The Unconventional Way to the Natural Gas Future."
GRI and GTI are quite different. GRI was established under FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) regulations, to produce R&D of benefit for the gas industry and for the US public as well. GRI ended its operation some years ago (even though its FERC status ran until 2004), and was quietly folded into GTI, an R&D think tank established by the natural gas industry for its own benefit rather than that of the public. GRI had very significant programs in "end-use-technology," trying to make natural gas consuming devices more cost effective and attractive to the public. One of the last significant acts of GRI was however the final and formal publication of its extremely optimistic natural gas production forecast (Ref. 23).
Now the projected demand will far outstrip the supply because the GRI (and GAMA) projections were always so optimistic, the price of natural gas can be expected to be very high in the future because of the excess demand, GRI has been folded into GTI, and GTI will be primarily involved in questions of interest to the natural gas industry but will no longer be involved in "end-use-technology." The extra optimistic projections of GRI are clearly helpful to those who are behind GTI, and GRI is no longer around to take the blame. Is this all an unfortunate coincidence? Were the GRI projections really a somewhat excessively optimistic forecast made by well-intentioned people who had a somewhat limited understanding? Is it wrong to suspect that the jumbo forecasts were a sort of going away present from GRI to GTI, at the expense of the public? Only time will tell.
There are also people trying to provide us with rosy pictures about the future in petroleum. The most prominent group is the USGS, with its recent report:
This is widely considered to be a very unprofessional assessment, aimed largely at supporting wishful thinking about the fossil fuel future, and documented in a very confusing way. Magazines as influential as "Science" and as the "Oil and Gas Journal" (OGJ) have misinterpreted the USGS report, listing the USGS assessment of "resources" as if they involved "reserves," and USGS management has made no effort to set the record straight. This is despite the fact that there is a huge difference between "resources" and "reserves." The amount of recoverable oil, defined as the "reserves," generally constitutes at most 35% or 40% of all of the oil originally in the ground, defined as the "resources." After all, one is trying to get a fairly thick and viscous "petroleum" ("rock-oil") out of sponge-like rock formations, with fine pores and only a limited permeability, in which nature had stored it. Much of the petroleum is simply not recoverable, even with enhanced recovery techniques like steam injection. Incorrectly interpreting "resources" as if they are "reserves" makes one much more optimistic than is warranted.
Critical comments on this USGS study by Colin Campbell and Jean Laherrere, two widely respected petroleum geologists, are posted on the internet at www.oilcrisis.com.
The USGS has behaved this way before. Dr. M. King Hubbert at one time worked at the USGS, trying to define the timing of the world Hubbert Peak at the express direction of US Congressional Committees. The Director of the USGS at that time did everything he could to make things difficult for Dr. Hubbert. He took away Dr. Hubbert's personal secretary, until the US Senate forced him to rescind that action. He published totally unjustified optimistic projections to counter the results of Dr. Hubbert. For these questionable efforts this USGS director was eventually forced into early retirement.
Dr. Leslie B. Magoon is a widely respected petroleum geologist currently on the USGS staff in the Menlo Park facility in California, who was one of the editors of a book that explains how the world's oil fields were created originally: L. B. Magoon and W. G. Dows, Editors: "The Petroleum System - From Source to Trap," AAPG Memoir 60, American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Tulsa, OK, 1994. Dr. Magoon was very actively involved in the early phases of the preparation of this most recent USGS assessment, but prepared what can only be considered as a "dissenting minority report" that is posted on the internet at www.oilcrisis.com, and that is also posted on the USGS website at www.usgs.gov. Dr. Magoon has given presentations in many locations in the USA, in Australia and elsewhere, to make people aware of the projections of Dr. Magoon, as opposed to the projections of the USGS.
Two more recent books follow below:
In these two books, Reynolds accepts the ideas of Hubbert on the oil production Hubbert Peak, and shows general acceptance of the recent predictions of Campbell. One of his more interesting conclusions is that the petroleum supply is extremely unresponsive to prices - very inelastic, on the order of 0.05 or even much less once it hits the Hubbert Peak limits (see Ref. 25, page 7 and Chapter 2). An elasticity of 0.05 means that if the price goes up by 100%, the supply only increases by 5%). This shows quite conclusively that the exuberant optimism of economists like M. A. Adelman and M. C. Lynch, who know little about petroleum geology and pay almost no attention to it, but who base all of their hopes on new and as yet undefined technologies that will provide a quite elastic and ideal free market response mechanism to scarcity and higher prices, is quite baseless. When humanity reaches the world Hubbert Peak in oil it will hit a brick wall; it will not be rescued by marvelous new technologies that will produce large new supplies of petroleum through new and previously unsuspected discoveries, through enormously increased yields out of fields previously thought to be depleted, through alchemy, or through any other forms of magic. This is not only documented in Ref. 25, but has been demonstrated repeatedly. In the USA in the 1970s' oil prices increased by 900%, well drilling increased by over 300%, people did all they could to squeeze more oil out of existing wells, but US oil production continued going down as if the Hubbert model paid almost no attention to the crash program that had been unleashed by the "Energy Crisis" of the early 1970s. The only significant thing that happened in the USA was that the Prudhoe Bay oil resources in Alaska came on line. These produced a bump on the down slope of the US oil production, but were not sufficient to make the production rate come up again so as to produce a second (larger, or even smaller) Hubbert Peak for the USA.
Four points should be noted on these Prudhoe Bay oil resources: (a) The early estimate of the petroleum geologists that Prudhoe Bay held recoverable reserves of about 12 billion barrels was very accurate - to within about 10%. This degree of accuracy has been shown time and again, so that one must recognize that competent petroleum geologists know what they are talking about; (b) The Prudhoe Bay resources had been discovered in the 1960s, and this discovery had nothing to do with the later "Energy Crisis" of the 1970s; (c) The Prudhoe Bay oil resources are already well past their own Hubbert Peak; and (d) The original Hubbert prediction that the US Hubbert Peak would arrive very close to 1970 was based on the lower 48 states alone (not including Alaska and not including the off-shore resources), but it proved to be valid for the 48 states plus Alaska and plus the off-shore resources. These resources outside of the lower 48 states, as interesting as they may seem, proved to be marginal, almost insignificant, for the Hubbert model.
After the "Energy Crisis" of the 1970s there were two main things that made life more comfortable for the nations that had to deal with OPEC: (a) Everybody became more energy-conscious, and started to use much less oil per unit of GNP (see the discussion above in Ref. 18), and (b) New oil resources came on line that had been discovered outside of OPEC in earlier decades, like Prudhoe Bay in the USA, the North Atlantic fields for England and Norway, and more oil fields in Mexico, China and elsewhere. This made the world temporarily less dependent on OPEC, reducing the percentage of OPEC oil supply in the world from over 30% to around 16%, effectively emasculating OPEC as a force in the oil market for the time being. At present, because of the depletion of the oil resources outside of OPEC, OPEC is back up to over 30% of world oil supply, and the OPEC oil supply percentage and market control will continue to increase indefinitely. Oil wars like the deceptive oil wars of the US Presidents Bush Sr. and Jr. are bound to make the world oil Hubbert Peak problems worse and not better.
Another book that came out on this topic recently, authored by a Caltech faculty member, is:
A book coming out in May is:
This book was announced in a column entitled: "$3-a-Gallon Gas? Get ready - the Days of Cheap Oil are Gone," by Paul Roberts in the San Jose Mercury News, March 31, 2004, Page 9B, that also came out in the L.A. Times.
In the San Francisco Chronicle of October 14, 2003 there is a front-page story entitled: "Natural Gas Bills to Soar this Winter, PG&E Says." PG&E (the Northern California gas and electric utility) predicts that gas will be 30% more expensive than last year. The author of the story acknowledges that fields in Texas and along the Gulf Coast are nearly depleted, but seems to feel the problem could be solved if environmentalists would not impede the drilling in Alaska and in the Rocky Mountain area. Clearly PG&E is misinforming the public, and probably PG&E is itself misinformed. It is not that the gas resources are being sabotaged; it is that the natural gas resources are running out, that they are past their "Hubbert Peak," and that feverish drilling in areas of such a mediocre potential that nobody bothered with them earlier cannot serve to achieve a turn-around. It is time for the PG&E staff to read about the "Hubbert Peak," and to understand what it is all about; or if not it is time for the PR department of PG&E to be candid.
The world will face difficult conditions in the future. Without the enormous amounts of cheaply recoverable petroleum and natural gas that nature has provided to the last few very fortunate generations, we will be forced to adopt alternative, and more expensive energy sources. Humanity will be forced into a quite different, and simpler lifestyle. Ultra-high volume passenger traffic on airliners, and the widespread ownership of huge SUVs being driven at 90 MPH on US highways, will become things of the past. Food will become more seasonal and local, better building designs will reduce building energy consumption drastically, a large market will develop for renewable energy and for equipment of very high energy efficiency, and there will be many other changes.
If the problems of adjustment are mishandled, there could well be the type of chaos, anarchy, oil wars, violence, environmental destruction, and primitivism envisioned by Dr. Richard Duncan in his "Olduvai Gorge Scenario" that can be seen on the www.oilcrisis.com and www.dieoff.org websites. Precisely such a scenario of social chaos was already foreseen as a possibility in Dr. Hubbert's first paper (Ref. 17) on the "Hubbert Peak," describing the beginning of the end of the age of petroleum. If however the world population is enlisted in a new program like the "Man on the Moon" Apollo Program of the 1960s, an "Apollo 2" program to convert humanity to a sustainable energy system, there is every reason to believe that we could see a rebirth of civic enthusiasm and of civility in the world: the end of the age of war and terror. Literally everybody could have a role in this program, and it could create an enormous number of new and productive jobs. Such a program in the USA is however out of the question so long as the White House refuses to be candid with the US DOE staff or with the US public, and so long as the White House uses false anti-terror and pro-democracy excuses to start and perpetuate wars that are really for oil, ego, and domination.
As mentioned earlier, our work in renewable energy led to our interest in oil and gas depletion. Our work in alternative energy however continues. Some of our personal programs in the alternative energy field can be seen at www.ecotopia.com; at www.solarquest.com; and at www.kiteship.com.
You are encouraged to check this material out, and to forward this document to others, for this topic deserves widespread awareness and discussion. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have. I can be reached as follows:
Francis de Winter
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