It's Time For an Inconvenient Talk About Peak Fossil Fuels

oil drum photo
With oil prices down from where they were a year ago (though rising steadily in the past few weeks) and the constant stream of project announcements in the renewable energy sector still flowing in I'll forgive you if you haven't thought about peak oil and peak fossil fuels in a while. But it's time to bring it up again.

If you need a good inside view on it from a former petroleum geologist—it seems the alarm always comes from the geologists looking at the data and not the policymakers and economists assuming supply can always expand if money is there—then be sure to check out a new piece in The Walrus. It's a worthwhile read at length, but if you've only got time for the short attention span version this is it:Every Bit of Fossil Fuel is Becoming Harder to Get
After talking about how at the beginning of the oil era energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) of oil was about 100:1—you've probably seen photos or film of oil gushers; that's what we're talking about at that EROEI, oil just flowing out of the ground. But things aren't so easy anymore (as you're probably aware) and this is what we're now dealing with:

The EROEI on more recent "new conventional" deposits, which Dave cites mostly by their discovery and extraction methods ("deepwater oil, horizontal wells, 3-D seismic") is also around 25:1. In Alberta's tar sands, the surface-mined bitumen comes to market at an EROEI of 6:1. "In situ" bitumen — sludge buried too far under the boreal forest floor to excavate, which comprises the lion's share of the most breathless estimates of Canada's energy superpower—scale oil production — rings in at 3:1. Corn ethanol, that darling of America's farm states, is somewhere between 1.3:1 and 0.75:1. Shale oil, another unconventional source held by its boosters to be capable of indefinitely extending the age of oil, has never been converted into fuel at a net energy profit, at least as far as Dave has been able to ascertain.

"I like to say that it's not a resource issue — it's a deliverability issue," Dave tells the crowd at NRCan. It's true, you notice; he does like to say it. Twice in this presentation, a few more times by satellite phone from Cortes many weeks later. "Bottom line is we've gone through the easy stuff, and we're getting into more and more difficult sources of these hydrocarbons."

Sustainability = Radically Rethinking Energy Consumption Levels, Let Alone Source
The following is probably about as concise a statement as I've seen on the need to develop more renewable energy (but be very much aware of its limitations) and how we need to fundamentally change our outlook on what is considered a normal amount of energy use:
The realities of the finite nature of non-renewable energy resources are now becoming evident. Peak oil in many producing countries. Peak North American natural gas. A tenfold increase in uranium prices since 2000. Imports of coal into the US after centuries of self-sufficiency. Despite the hype, renewable energy technologies are extremely unlikely to be able to fill the supply gap from hydrocarbons and non-renewable energy. A sustainable future lies in radically reducing and rethinking energy consumption. A paradigm shift in the way we look at energy. Forecasts of future energy consumption based on extrapolations of growth from the past — which ignore the physical limits of non-renewable resources, and the technological and physical constraints on their rate of conversion to supply — mask the crucial issues facing us and lead to complacency. Which will make the final transition much worse. Climate change is in the minds of the public and the rhetoric of the politicians. The energy sustainability dilemma is much less understood, although it's highly likely to have more immediate and severe impacts on our current lifestyle than climate change. Which we will likely have to live with for centuries, because of the feedback loops that are already activated. Fortunately, many but not all solutions proposed for climate change also address energy sustainability. The number one priority is energy conservation and much greater efficiency. And there are many opportunities for doing this. Followed by technologies and lifestyle changes to reduce the dependence on non-renewable fuel sources. A sustainable energy future is not out of reach but will be hugely challenging. We have to be thinking on a ten- to twenty-year or longer time frame. To develop the infrastructure for alternatives as well as technologies and incentives to reduce consumption.

Read the whole original article: An Inconvenient Talk
photo: Ryan McFarland via flickr.
Peak Oil, Peak Fossil Fuels

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