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Peak Oil is In Our Rear View Mirror

8:05 pm in Uncategorized by BruceMcF

From Earth Insight by Nafeez Ahmed, hostsed by the Guardian, Former BP geologist: peak oil is here and it will ‘break economies:’

Dr. Richard G. Miller, who worked for BP from 1985 before retiring in 2008, said that official data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), US Energy Information Administration (EIA), International Monetary Fund (IMF), among other sources, showed that conventional oil had most likely peaked around 2008.

Dr. Miller critiqued the official industry line that global reserves will last 53 years at current rates of consumption, pointing out that “peaking is the result of declining production rates, not declining reserves.” Despite new discoveries and increasing reliance on unconventional oil and gas, 37 countries are already post-peak, and global oil production is declining at about 4.1% per year, or 3.5 million barrels a day (b/d) per year:

“We need new production equal to a new Saudi Arabia every 3 to 4 years to maintain and grow supply… New discoveries have not matched consumption since 1986. We are drawing down on our reserves, even though reserves are apparently climbing every year. Reserves are growing due to better technology in old fields, raising the amount we can recover – but production is still falling at 4.1% p.a. [per annum].”

Wait a Minute, I Thought the Peak Oil Theory Was Debunked!

Big Oil has, of course, worked hard on spinning the peak oil argument. After all, if we cannot count on the availability of petroleum as an energy source, then that creates an obvious coalition of interest between those concerned with climate change, who argue for investing in alternatives to CO2 emitting energy sources, and those who are simply concerned with securing a long term energy supply for their economic activities … which can be secured by investing in alternatives to CO2 emitting energy sources.

Propagandizing the impression that the “Peak Oil” argument has been debunked is therefore an essential political wedge action by Big Oil, preventing that natural coalition of interest from coming together.

Of course, when engaged in a well-financed spin campaign, what one does is take all the arguments one can find, based on whatever partial or misrepresented evidence one can muster, and send them through focus groups to find the arguments that appear to be most effective. And then put them out there in as many channels as required, including direct issues advertising, various propaganda mills willing to reach a conclusion for hire, and by giving both money and messaging support to politicians available for lease in both the Republican and Democratic party.

Dr. Miller punctures a key talking point here: growing reserves prove that the “Peak Oil” hypothesis was wrong.

The Peak Oil hypothesis is based on the fact that new discoveries are lagging behind depletion of existing fields, so that given the normal production profile of an oil field, a certain time after the peak of new discoveries, we will arrive at the peak of new production. And, as Dr, Miller reminds us, the growth in reserves is not due to new discoveries outpacing consumption … it is due to new production techniques that are more effective at extending the production lifespan of existing oil fields and recovering more of the petroleum contained in the field.

Now, slowing the rate of decline and postponing the retiring of existing oil fields could defer a production peak … if new discoveries were being made and exploited rapidly enough to bridge the now smaller decline in what the existing fields are producing. That plausibility may well be part of why this talking point would have done well in focus groups.

But according to Dr. Miller, the actual facts on the ground are that new production of conventional oil coming on stream is not outpacing the declines in production in existing fields. And so, plausible or not, that link between increasing reserves and increasing total production just is not happening.

Shift the Goal Posts: Change The Object of Discussion

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All of the Above: Bringing This Oil Tanker to a Halt

8:18 pm in Uncategorized by BruceMcF

Its been said that it takes miles for a fully-loaded super-tanker to come to a stop, because an ordinary stop takes 20 minutes, and even an emergency, or “crash”, stop takes 14 minutes. But that is less than the blink of an eye compared to the time it will take to bring the emissions of CO2 to a stop.

As Do the Math reminds us, in order to have some plausible chance (far short of certainty, by the way) of leaving global warming at under the 3.6°F that implies that the already ongoing climate catastrophe tips over into the super-catastrophe range, we need to keep additional CO2 emissions at under 565 gigatons. And we have computed reserves equivalent to 2,795 gigatons. So we must, by hook or by crook, find a way to refrain from consuming 80% of our CO2.

For the US, our main focus has to be on our energy emissions due to petroleum, coal, and natural gas, since 85.7% of our total CO2 emissions are due to energy production. As of 2011 41% of our emissions from energy production comes from petroleum emissions, 34% from coal, and 24% from natural gas. Of that 41% due to petroleum, 15% is from domestic petroleum production, and 26% from petroleum imports. So if the United States were to today achieve petroleum independence from carbon-neutral energy sources and energy savings, and totally replace coal combustion with carbon-neutral energy sources and energy savings, that would save 60% of the 86% of emissions from energy production, or 52% of the total. We would “only” have to cut the remaining energy-related emissions and the 14% from other sources by 60% to get to an equal proportional share of an 80% reduction.

However, the target we have to aim at is more ambitious than this. First, fossil fuels are non-renewable, and our timeline for the persistence of CO2 in the atmosphere is around a century. We don’t have a century’s worth of fossil fuels at the current rate of global consumption, so cutting back our consumption by 80% of the present rate is not enough.

And second, because of the time that it will take to switch to a low carbon emissions society, it is highly likely that by the time that a low carbon emissions society is within reach, we will have already emitted close to 565 gigatons.

This is why our target is no longer a “low net carbon emissions” society, but a “zero net carbon emissions” society, since we’ve likely already passed the “ordinary stop” stopping distance, and are coming up upon the “crash stop” stopping distance.

The Natural Gas Bridge To Nowhere

We are a carbon fuel consuming society, and since the rules that make up social institutions are organized around past solutions to past conflicts, it is surely politically impossible to make the transition to the the carbon-neutral energy system that we require. However, since physical reality is not going to change in response to the rules we use to organize society, it is going to have to be the rules that we use to organize society giving way. And while we may be able to engaged in some real sequestration, via, for example, the burying of biocoal, that is only going to be able to compensate for a small portion of our current CO2 emissions. So, politically impossible or not, we must take all of these, and bring them all down to very close to zero:

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Is Dirty Ethanol Here to Stay?

8:19 pm in Uncategorized by BruceMcF

The AP Reports (courtesy of Yahoo!):

The failure so far of cellulosic fuel is central to the debate over corn-based ethanol, a centerpiece of America’s green-energy strategy. Ethanol from corn has proven far more damaging to the environment than the government predicted, and cellulosic fuel hasn’t emerged as a replacement.

“Cellulosic has been five years away for 20 years now,” said Nathanael Greene, a biofuels expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Now the first projects are up and running, but actually it’s still five years away.”

The administration defended its projections, saying it was trying to use the biofuel law as a way to promote development of cellulosic fuel. But the projections were so far off that, in January, a federal appeals court said the administration improperly let its “aspirations” for cellulosic fuel influence its analysis. Even with the first few plants running, supporters acknowledge there is almost no chance to meet the law’s original yearly targets that top out at 16 billion gallons by 2022. “It’s simply not plausible,” said Jeremy Martin, a biofuels expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “2030 is the soonest you can anticipate it to be at that level.”

Green Ethanol still “Five Years Away” … just as they were when I first blogged on this topic in 2007 … while Dirty Ethanol is the mainstay of the US Ethanol mandate. So how long are we to accept Dirty Ethanol as a “bridge” to a Green Ethanol seemingly always right on the five-year horizon? 

Dirty Ethanol Now, “Clean” Ethanol Later

The AP has recently been doing an investigation into the “dirty” side of Dirty Ethanol … which seems just about right, since I was not the only blogger sounding the alarm about Dirty Ethanol in 2007, and the AP over five years behind the blogosphere seems as baked in as “Clean” Ethanol fixed at “Five Years From Now”.

You can find the AP write-up of the “Unfulfilled Promise” side of their investigation at the WaPo, if citing the same article from “yahoo” doesn’t strike your fancy. And you can find the results of the “Hang on, it seems like Corn Ethanol is Dirty Ethanol!” part of their study all over as well. There’s this from the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

The hills of southern Iowa bear the scars of America’s push for green energy: The brown gashes where rain has washed away the soil. The polluted streams that dump fertilizer into the water supply. Even the cemetery that disappeared like an apparition into a cornfield.

As farmers rushed to find new places to plant corn, they wiped out millions of acres of conservation land, destroyed habitat and contaminated water supplies, an Associated Press investigation found. Five million acres of land set aside for conservation — more than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined — have been converted on Obama’s watch. Landowners filled in wetlands. They plowed into pristine prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the soil. Sprayers pumped out billions of pounds of fertilizer, some of which seeped into drinking water, polluted rivers and worsened the huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where marine life can’t survive.

We have, after all, a massively destructive system for raising food, and so it stands to reason that relying on food crops for fuel will also be massively destructive.

However, this is not just a matter of lax environmental enforcement, so this is not a problem that can be solved by overcoming obstacles to constraining environmentally destructive practices in US Agriculture. The problem with Corn Ethanol is baked into the core process, in which we take a product that represents a small fraction of the total solar energy power captured by the plant, and then use substantial additional energy to convert it from a cereal grain into a liquid fuel.

As engineer-poet noted in 2006:

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