Friday, July 14, 2006


I have only one thing to add to DarkSyde's excellent discussion of peak oil.

The US Energy Information Agency seems uninterested in modeling the truly scary parts of peak oil, preferring fantasy-land scenarios. To whit:
Figure 85

The high and low price cases reflect different assumptions about the size of the conventional world oil resource, and they project different market shares for OPEC and non-OPEC oil production. The high price case assumes that the world conventional crude oil resource base is 15 percent smaller than the USGS mean oil resource estimate. In the high price case, world oil production reaches 102 million barrels per day in 2030, with OPEC contributing 31 percent of total world oil production. World oil prices increase to $76.30 per barrel (2004 dollars) in 2015 and $95.71 per barrel in 2030 (Figure 85).
I don't know if the USGS estimates are fantasy-land also, but prices for oil hit $78 today. And energy analysts are freaking out about it hitting $100 by year's end. Even their "high price" scenario would be a wonderful thing right now.

And it gets better. You know how everyone wants to drill ANWR in order to solve the various impending problems? This figure shows the relevant data:ANWR doesn't reduce foreign oil demand
It is fantasy-land to think that allowing a pristine tract of wilderness to be ripped up by drilling crews would have any meaningful impact on the amount of energy we require, or the price of that energy. ANWR is a blip, and one that, in a best-case scenario, is a decade away.

The same effect could be achieved now by improving efficiency of new products being sold and upgrading existing products. Replace every incandescent bulb in every federal building with a high-efficiency, long-lasting compact fluorescent bulb, and I bet we'd save more energy than ANWR could produce. Encourage consumers to do the same, perhaps by subsidizing the price of the bulbs for a while, and the savings could be astronomical.

The EIA notes that transportation continues to be the fastest growing consumer of petroleum products, and a lot can be done to change that. Raising CAFE standards and closing loopholes in how those standards are applied would arrest that rise, and do so at no cost (or close to no cost) to consumers.

Beyond those simple, short term solutions, we need to think seriously about ways to encourage a gradual shift into newer engine technologies, engines that run on biodiesel and ethanol already exist, and hydrogen fueled cars exist as proofs of concept. Getting ethanol and biodiesel to the point of cost effectiveness and energy efficiency remains a challenge, and getting hydrogen requires a source of electricity. But changes to power generation impose no cost at all on the consumer. New plants are built, and can be built to harness different technologies. We know I'm a fan of wind, but other technologies are also getting ready for prime time.

We can do this, and we should do this. Playing pretend won't fix things.