Monday, April 09, 2007

Peak Oil and Future Shock

Nino Cocchiarella has some astute observations about life after Peak Oil.

From the Evansville Courier & Press:

Peak oil crisis will require fundamental cultural change
By NINO G. COCCHIARELLA Special to the Courier & Press

Sunday, April 8, 2007

The recent congressional report "CRUDE OIL, Uncertainty about Future Oil Supply Makes It Important to Develop a Strategy for Addressing a Peak and Decline in Oil Production" firmly recommends that we "better prepare for a peak in oil."

The report clearly states that there is no U.S. policy to deal with global peak oil. Oil peaked in the United States in the 1970s. We were saved by OPEC, Alaska and the North Sea discoveries, and we never looked back.

Humans have for all practical purposes found, drilled, pumped and refined half of the crude oil on the planet — the easiest half: 900 billion barrels — so far this century. What's left are declining fields with hard-to-extract heavy (sour) crude, oil shale and tar sands. These will require ever more energy to extract and will approach a negative net energy result.
Plus, there are only a limited number of refineries that can make gasoline from heavy crude, let alone tar sands and oil shale. This will create exponential price increases and shortages as oil exploration and production and oil wars take precedence over poor consumers. Not to mention the side effects of burning two barrels of oil to get 2.5 barrels to market. Can you say "accelerated global warming"?

Like addicts, we have our drug of choice, "The American Way of Life," which, by Vice President Dick Cheney's recent statement, "Is not negotiable." However, in this case, there isn't a new dealer on the planet.

I wonder if there is oil on the moon?

Oil, for all its dirty, nasty attributes, is the best thing since man discovered fire. There is nothing to replace it. To put this greasy energy in perspective: One cubic mile of crude oil has the energy equivalent of 104 coal-fired power plants running for 50 years; 1 cubic mile of oil equals 22.7 billion barrels, or about the first nine months of what the world used last year. Yet, crude oil costs only 12 cents a cup.

Is there anything you can think of, besides sand, that can be bought for less than 12 cents a cup? That won't even buy a bottle of water.

The majority of the world's significant oil fields are in decline. That, I'm afraid to say, is fact.
New discoveries have only been a fractional part of current consumption and may be taking more energy to search for than they net in new finds.

Whether you believe the oil companies (40-plus years), the U.S. government (20-30 years), scientists and geologists (zero to 10 years), former oil industry insiders (zero to five years) or us "doomers" (it's happening now), the undeniable fact is we cannot continue the "American way of life" forever. Most likely not even for another 10 years.

Oil, the very thing that fuels 6.6 billion lives, is going to soon start to, or already is in, decline. World oil production has declined 3 percent a year for the last several years.
This is the biggest, most global event man will ever face. Yet no one is talking about it. Well, maybe a few of us are yelling about it.

Ethanol, bio-diesel, synthesized coal liquids, methane gas, hydrogen fuel cells, and other "alternatives" have been passed around like a lump of hot coal for years. All of these, in their best possible forms of production, still have a net energy loss. Some are closer than others, but, realistically, they're not going to save us.

More important, they all have one vision — to keep all the cars running by any means.
And speaking of coal: We can't power our cars with it, and the same geologic laws that pertain to oil also affect coal (and even uranium). They all are finite, and we are consuming them like a cancer consumes a body.

What do we do? Conserve. Change. Elect intelligent people.

Conservation is only a feeble start. For a society to survive intact, philosophies have to change. The car mentality has to go, and the sooner the better.

We have to stop urban sprawl and let the land around our cities be used, as it once was, for growing food for its region; use light rail for distance transportation and trolleys, bikes and pedestrian walkways for local transportation.

We must localize communities around centers of food production and local-needs manufacturing. We must learn to live with less.

All of these would use less energy and could allow a world closer to what we know today to continue for a significantly longer time than would doing nothing.

Technology will not fix this. No amount of high-tech know-how, drilling techniques or "Googling" will save us from ourselves.

In reality, we all will have to learn to live a different life under different conditions. It's not going to be easy or fun.

Peak oil will be the issue of our generation. There is not going to be a heroic Hollywood ending or Hail Mary pass to save us on this one. This is an issue that should not be seen as a liberal, tree-hugging, doomsdayer's obsession. This is a global geological fact that needs to be considered in every aspect of our lives.

Nino G. Cocchiarella is a resident of Evansville.

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