Peak or no Peak?

I have not posted about peak oil for a long while, mainly because if people get it, they get it, and if they don’t, or won’t, then they are almost certainly not interested. Either way there’s no point constantly banging a drum.

Well, this week a few articles surfaced that do warrant a further look.

Firstly George Monbiot posted We were wrong on peak oil. There’s enough to fry us all where he states that the Peak Oilists were wrong (himself included). This is seemingly based on a US report heralding a glut of unconventional shale oil reserves that will jump in to fill the energy gap. To be fair he’s not exactly rubbing his hands in glee:

There is enough oil in the ground to deep-fry the lot of us, and no obvious means to prevail upon governments and industry to leave it in the ground. Twenty years of efforts to prevent climate breakdown through moral persuasion have failed, with the collapse of the multilateral process at Rio de Janeiro last month. The world’s most powerful nation is again becoming an oil state, and if the political transformation of its northern neighbour is anything to go by, the results will not be pretty.

This starkly contrasts with an article by Richard Heinburg, author and long term peak oil commentator, entitled Peak Denial (can you see where this is going?)

It’s well worth a read, but this sums it up perfectly:

The super-giant oilfields that still account for 60 percent of world crude production are aging, and so the more modest contribution of unconventionals, which are expected to be both expensive and slow to come on line, must push against a tide of depletion and decline. It’s only a question of when the overall global production decline begins, not if. Meanwhile, some of the fuels (ethanol, natural gas liquids) counted by IEA and EIA in the “all liquids” category have significantly lower energy content per unit of volume than regular crude oil; thus an increase in barrels-per-day of “all liquids” does not necessarily mean an increase in the amount of energy delivered to society. Further, all the unconventional liquid fuels (including biofuels, tar sands, and “tight” oil) offer a low energy return on the energy invested in producing them. Therefore, even if the number of barrels of liquid fuels delivered to market is still gradually increasing,

the amount of useful net energy being made available by the petroleum and biofuels industries, when energy costs are accounted for, is probably already declining. And this is almost certainly true in the US—the poster child for unconventional oil production.

And finally the excellent Nicole Foss over at The Automatic Earth published this little gem yesterday Unconventional Oil is NOT a Game Changer. Here she (reiterates) her deflationist viewpoint and that the high cost of extraction coupled with a deflated price simply makes these reserves non-viable.

My own view is that George is unwise to change his tune so completely on the basis of the US shale oil deposits but I’d agree that they are likely to be exploited and that we will see a net energy reserves increase (over what we may have expected previously). However, this doesn’t change my long-held view that we’ll still be bumping down a depletion curve over the next 20-40 years much like in J.M Greer’s Long Descent.


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