Sunday, January 16, 2011

A dramatic shift in the peak oil discussion: "You don't have to take my word for it"

If you write about, speak about, or talk with your family, friends and co-workers about peak oil, you've almost certainly been asked: "Well, who else is saying what you're saying?"

It's wise not to rely on just one source of information. Humans are fallible creatures. Knowing that, we feel much more comfortable when we can confirm something someone tells us either directly through observation or indirectly by going to a well-vetted source. We can, for instance, easily verify whether the Empire State Building has 103 stories, either by going there and counting the stories or referring to some reputable source of information. Furthermore, whether the Empire State Building has 103 stories is not really a matter of opinion. It's either true or it isn't.

When it comes to murkier matters such as peak oil, we must admit that our perceptions and conclusions are always based on incomplete information. In such instances, humans, being social creatures, seek confirmation from others when they receive information that is new and not easily verified. They wonder, quite rightly, whether other people accept such information as correct.

Now, as we know, the mere fact that large numbers of people accept a certain conclusion is not necessarily proof of its veracity. Still, with little to go on and little time to do independent research, many people essentially resort to polling. Does my reference group, the people I hang out with most, accept a particular conclusion? Does the broader public, reflected through the media, accept it?

This confirmation strategy has worked against the peak oil movement for many years as very few highly placed people dared to utter the words "peak oil" in public--even if they believed the issue was important. That has changed rather radically in the last 12 months, and it hands peak oil activists another important rhetorical tool, namely, the phrase: "You don't have to take my word for it."

In rhetorical terms this phrase is, of course, an appeal to authority. Those who argue the peak oil case most often rely on appeals to reason. That works with some people. But others can find such argumentation tedious and difficult to follow. A shortcut for them is to check out what experts and officials are saying. Increasingly, those experts and officials are saying that peak oil is near, that it is a serious danger, and that we are unprepared for it.

Perhaps the most important announcement in this respect is the turnabout at the International Energy Agency (IEA) late last year in its 2010 World Energy Outlook. The Paris-based IEA is an intergovernmental energy research and policy organization serving its 28 member states including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom. It was formed in the wake of the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo to advise member states, most of which are oil importers, on energy policy.

Consistently optimistic in the past about future energy supplies, the IEA undertook its own field-by-field survey of oil reserves in 2008 and has become increasingly concerned about oil supplies. This year the agency explicitly discussed peak oil for the first time and proclaimed that conventional crude most likely peaked in 2006. It continues to believe unconventional oil from the tar sands, the Arctic and deepwater fields along with natural gas liquids can make up for declining conventional oil and lead to increases in world oil production for two more decades. But it warns that this is no longer a foregone conclusion without the necessary and rather large investment required.

There were earlier indications that the IEA was about to change its official views. In 2008 the chief economist of the IEA, Fatih Birol, wrote in a guest editorial in the British newspaper The Independent that "we should leave oil before it leaves us."

This turnabout is significant because the public listens much more closely to officials who change their minds than it does to those who've advocated a position consistently. The public feels that an insider who changes his or her mind about an important policy topic must have special inside knowledge that confirms the change. More important is that IEA officials are changing their minds not because it is merely fashionable to do so, but because mounting evidence has convinced them that our energy future, particularly our oil future, will not be smooth sailing.

That has been the case again and again in official circles recently. In 2005 the so-called Hirsch Report, a report about peak oil commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy, stood practically alone as an official pronouncement about the dangers and proximity of peak oil.

But last year the U.S. military released a report raising warnings about a nearby oil supply crunch that would seriously affect military operations. "A severe energy crunch is inevitable without a massive expansion of production and refining capacity," the report said. But even in the measured language of the report there can be no mistaking that there is concern about oil production peaking worldwide. "The world would need to add roughly the equivalent of Saudi Arabia’s current production every seven years" to meet expected oil demand in 2030. I sat next to the author of that report at a meeting last summer--a peak oil meeting.

The American military was not the only defense establishment that got interested in peak oil in 2010. The German military commissioned a report, leaked to the media, assessing the dangers of world peak oil production. Parts of the British government including the Ministry of Defense huddled in meetings last year about peak oil. The content of the meetings remains secret. But their existence sent a minor shock wave through the British public who had been consistently told by high government officials not to worry about peak oil.

A private report put together by some major industry players in Britain was also released last year. The group called itself the Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security. The message couldn't have been more blunt: "Our message to government and businesses is clear. Act now."

Even the solidly cornucopian U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Energy, saw a crack develop in its otherwise optimistic veneer. A presentation by an EIA employee unearthed by a French newspaper cast doubt on whether oil supplies could meet demand in this decade. The author was suddenly transferred away from his post--previously planned, the agency said--and the media was shut out from further contact with him.

Leading executives from the oil industry are also weighing in on peak oil. According to Thierry Desmarest, chairman of the French oil giant Total, "The problem of peak oil remains. In our opinion, it will be very difficult to raise oil production worldwide above 95 million barrels a day, which is 10 percent more than today." He added that oil could peak in about 10 years.

Chevron executives haven't been quite as explicit. At least since 2005, however, they've been saying that the era of cheap oil is over, and even translated that idea into an ongoing public relations campaign on television and elsewhere with the slogan "Will you join us?"

Former Talisman Energy CEO Jim Buckee has also been sounding the peak oil alarm for some time. A former Shell chairman, Lord Oxburgh, said in 2007 that he believes oil supplies will be tight in the long term and that a peak within 20 years would not surprise him.

I saw a presentation at the 2008 ASPO-USA peak oil conference by the consultant who models future oil supplies for Toyota. One would expect auto manufacturers to be perennially bullish on oil supplies. His conclusion: Peak between 2017 and 2023 (slide 46).

And, finally there has been for some time a peak oil caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives led by Roscoe Barlett (R-Maryland) that has been a bipartisan voice for concerns about peak oil.

No longer do peak oil activists stand alone on a stage when they deliver presentations about our unfolding energy difficulties. With all of these prominent voices and institutions behind them, activists can now confidently say, "You don't have to take my word for it." That simple phrase can be quite effective in helping to persuade the broad public when it is followed by the growing list of government and industry voices now talking about peak oil.

18 comments:

Harold said...

Please don't resort to an Appeal to Authority, or worse yet and Appeal to the Masses or Government.

The facts should speak for themselves. Regardless of wheher you believe we have reached overall "Peak Oil" it should be intuitively obvious that we have peaked out on cheap, easily accessible, secure sources of oil. Whether the stuff is all gone or we have to initiate WWIII to get it, the problem is dire and far more pressing than Global Warming. Nuclear Energy long term and Natural Gas as a bridge fuel with all th alternatives we can muster is the obvious answer.

nawks said...

A peak in 10-20 years? WTH are these guys talking about? We already saw the peak. Perhaps they are talking about a peak in known reserves, which would be a bit misleading if they do not state that clearly.

What reason has anyone given that we could exceed the production in 2005-2006? The resurgent global industrial economy?

What we are seeing now is a world learning to live within its means.

The North Coast said...

It looks to me as though the peak was 2005, and we've been on the "bumpy plateau" since. I'll take the word of Ken Deffeyes, as it is confirmed by so many productions charts, and by Matt Simmons' parsing of Saudi Aramco and OPEC fictions in his comprehensive analysis of middle eastern oil reserves and their declilne, TWILIGHT IN THE DESERT.

I'll also heed Dick Cheney, the mendacious snake, who spoke before a conference of oil men in 2000 and stated that oil production is "a self-depleting" activity, and that it was most unlikely that we would be able to find the 50 Billion barrels a year or so we need to find to stay level with current demand.

CURRENT demand. Not increasing future demand.

I have twice on my blog published a long list of credible expert references for doubters, leaving out pundits like Kunstler, and confining myself to people with credible credentials. I find that the people who want to know where I heard it and who else is saying it are abundantly uninterested in following up on these references.

jdl75 said...

The US likes to talk about peak oil and wear the "teacher suit" in this domain. However they should also remember that they were the ones to pressure the IEA into "mellowing out" its reports, especially after the 1998 one.

Moreover in 2009 US oil consumption is still equivalent to the ones of China, Germany, Japan, Russia, and India COMBINED.

You can also notice that the US has a TOTALLY RIDICULOUS gas tax level, by far the lowest of any OECD country, and that these stupid cunts are still now buying their gross SUVs around the level they used to do pre 2008.

So adopting the "teacher suit", the "witty saying stand" or discussing "facts" ont the internet is one thing, but one could expect a bit more political conscience from these degenerated FILTHY PIGS.

You for sure don't hear many people saying that the first thing the US should do out of pure self interest is to RAISE their GAS TAX level.

A tax doesn't change a country GDP, the point is to influence all investments decisions towards less consumption, redistribution can be 100% direct as proposed by Hansen.

And that not doing so (from a pure US selfish point of view) just shows that the US has completely given up and is now fully geared towards pursuing total economic suicide.

A bit sad, to say the least ... the US for sure looks now like a totally apathic and trepanated bunch of airhead, without the slightest political conscience left.

jdl75 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kurt Cobb said...

jdl75,

You make many good points. If you will leave the name calling out, then I'll leave your comments in.

jdl75 said...

The name calling was just there as an experiment somehow, to see the results, and politics always involves some name calling, but fine I can drop it

You maybe can just remove the line with the name calling, I think the quote from Jeremy Grantham is really to the point.

jdl75 said...

And about the US pressure on IEA reports, a key document is the work done by Lionel Badal on it, at below link :
http://www.countercurrents.org/badal250510.htm

or :

http://petrole.blog.lemonde.fr/how-the-global-oil-watchdog-failed-its-mission

jdl75 said...

And overall, it's true that I am a bit pissed that American peak oil bloggers or journalists always either explain, predicts the doom (which is indeed a probable outcome), talk about homestead or "communities", but nowhere true nation level energy strategy are touched or discussed, really like if at this level, everybody in the US has totally given up or is waiting for a "grand solution" or something, when gaining percent in improving the infrastrucutre efficiency (in a general sense, cars being part of the infrastructure), gradually pushing on hydocarbon tax in a peak oil perspective as much if not more as on a climate perspective is really what is needed to :
1) push decisions in the right direction
2) lower the trade deficit
3) lower the fiscal deficit

Clearly any energy strategy for the US must include a sizeable part of tax on fossile fuels (totally different from cap and trade stuff which on the contrary should be avoided)

Kurt Cobb said...

jdl75,

You may, if you wish, repost the comment I deleted without the last line. I have no way of editing comments.

With regard to a comprehensive energy strategy at the federal level in the United States which ought to include high taxes on all carbon fuels, I think that most of those in the peak oil movement here regard the U.S. Congress as so thoroughly corrupt that there is no possibility of it doing the right thing. Therefore, they focus on local action.

I share their pessimism and wonder whether it is a good use of one's time in America to try to influence a Congress that is indistinguishable from a wholly-owned subsidiary of the fossil fuel and defense industries.

And, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has said it is legal for corporations to spend any amount of money to say anything in an election without having to disclose this fact, the situation will only get worse.

The North Coast said...

I agree with Harold that nuclear energy is the only form of alternative energy that might provide for our minimal needs while reducing carbon emissions. I also agree that natural gas is an interim fuel at best as gas depletes just as oil does, and if we ramp up consumption steeply as oil depletes, we will drive gas into rapid depletion also.

However, absolutely nothing will work if we continue to A. promote extremely wasteful lifestyles, and B. breed like rodents.

Ultimately, no program of conservation and no source of energy, no matter how concentrated and seemingly abundant, will meet our needs if both our consumption and our population continue to multiply geometrically.

Will we keep breeding and consuming prodigiously until we all end up living in cardboard shanties with 6 other people, crowded together on the banks of rivers that have become sewers?

This is where the "free market" comes in... people need to pay for their choices, and be held responsible for what they produce, including kids they can't feed. I'd be happy if we could reverse invasive government policies that REWARD people for waste and profligate breeding. In other words, you can do what you want but we will no longer subsidize it, whether it's car ownership (heavily subsidized), suburban home ownership (very heavily subsidized) or having kids (also very heavily subsidized).

jdl75 said...

Recent Jeremy Grantham quote on Gas tax aspect (never heard of this guy before), but quite to the point :


"Jeremy Grantham On Ignoring Eisenhower And The Two Most Dangerous Industries In America

The financial resources of the carbon-based energy companies are particularly terrifying, and their effective management of propaganda goes back decades. They established and funded “independent” think tanks and even non-profit organizations that have mysteriously always come out in favor of policies favorable to maintaining or increasing the profits of their financial supporters.

The campaign was well-organized and has been terrifyingly effective. And the results speak for themselves: which other developed country has so little gas tax? Not one. And better yet, which other country now accepts the myth that good red-blooded Americans will never stand for such a tax? That is the real art. It has created an environment in which we cannot aspire to the social responsibility – and a higher gas tax is simply that – of, say, the Italians (the most agreeable people on the planet, in my opinion, but not noted for making tough political decisions). Which other developed country has had no improvement in fuel efficiency because it has reinvested the considerable technological advances in heavier SUVs, with no real need for most other than the nurturing of their macho instincts? Not one."


Kurt,

As to "I think that most of those in the peak oil movement here regard the U.S. Congress as so thoroughly corrupt that there is no possibility of it doing the right thing. Therefore, they focus on local action." Do you realize how it sounds ? That basically the US isn't a democratic country anymore !

However I'm sorry, but part of the reason is also I think that a major part of peak oil activists or whatever they should be called, are also "classical Americans", in the sense that Government and even politics are simply bad words, and "tax" even worse. Saying the congress is corrupted is also saying I hate politics. But the point is that first whatever community actions are taken their influence would be minimal compared to a sizeable gas tax increase at the nation level (both in financial terms and in taking the message to the public), and second any community will also be full of politics, in the end humans are political animals, as Aristotle would say.

These "communities" dreams maybe sound fine for pilgrims reaching an almost empty continent, but one would expect a bit more mature political conscience from the still most powerfull nation on earth, and them not even trying anything, this with the by far biggest military on earth, military mostly geared towards securing their SUVs tanks being filled up, is a bit disgusting to say the least...

Not to forget that increasing US gas tax must be seen (and is) a pure selfish US measure :
1) decrease commercial deficit
2) decrease fiscal deficit
3) push the infrastructure in the right direction

jdl75 said...

Recent Jeremy Grantham quote on Gas tax aspect (never heard of this guy before), but quite to the point :


"Jeremy Grantham On Ignoring Eisenhower And The Two Most Dangerous Industries In America

The financial resources of the carbon-based energy companies are particularly terrifying, and their effective management of propaganda goes back decades. They established and funded “independent” think tanks and even non-profit organizations that have mysteriously always come out in favor of policies favorable to maintaining or increasing the profits of their financial supporters.

The campaign was well-organized and has been terrifyingly effective. And the results speak for themselves: which other developed country has so little gas tax? Not one. And better yet, which other country now accepts the myth that good red-blooded Americans will never stand for such a tax? That is the real art. It has created an environment in which we cannot aspire to the social responsibility – and a higher gas tax is simply that – of, say, the Italians (the most agreeable people on the planet, in my opinion, but not noted for making tough political decisions). Which other developed country has had no improvement in fuel efficiency because it has reinvested the considerable technological advances in heavier SUVs, with no real need for most other than the nurturing of their macho instincts? Not one."


Kurt,

As to "I think that most of those in the peak oil movement here regard the U.S. Congress as so thoroughly corrupt that there is no possibility of it doing the right thing. Therefore, they focus on local action." Do you realize how it sounds ? That basically the US isn't a democratic country anymore !

However I'm sorry, but part of the reason is also I think that a major part of peak oil activists or whatever they should be called, are also "classical Americans", in the sense that Government and even politics are simply bad words, and "tax" even worse. Saying the congress is corrupted is also saying I hate politics. But the point is that first whatever community actions are taken their influence would be minimal compared to a sizeable gas tax increase at the nation level (both in financial terms and in taking the message to the public), and second any community will also be full of politics, in the end humans are political animals, as Aristotle would say.

These "communities" dreams maybe sound fine for pilgrims reaching an almost empty continent, but one would expect a bit more mature political conscience from the still most powerfull nation on earth, and them not even trying anything, this with the by far biggest military on earth, military mostly geared towards securing their SUVs tanks being filled up, is a bit disgusting to say the least...

Not to forget that increasing US gas tax must be seen (and is) a pure selfish US measure :
1) decrease commercial deficit
2) decrease fiscal deficit
3) push the infrastructure in the right direction

jdl75 said...

Sorry for the dupes

@North Coast
On :
"I agree with Harold that nuclear energy is the only form of alternative energy that might provide for our minimal needs while reducing carbon emissions. I also agree that natural gas is an interim fuel at best as gas depletes just as oil does, and if we ramp up consumption steeply as oil depletes, we will drive gas into rapid depletion also. "

Always the same thing, discussing solutions and the future over the internet ...


First thing is to decrease fossile fuel consumption, and to put in its price a part of what is represented by the capital being depleted this not being accounted for anywhere.
A key aspect of tax on fossile fuels is that it is "solution agnostic", it pushes alternative whatever they are.
You can move around as you want, the ONLY sensible measure for the US currently is to INCREASE its TOTALLY RIDICULOUS gas tax level.

Michael Lardelli said...

Hi Kurt,

You missed one that is seen as very important in Australia where Macquarie Bank is worshipped by the investment crowd:

http://www.bi-me.com/main.php?id=40318&t=1

Regards,

Michael Lardelli

The North Coast said...

I personally concur with a gasoline and diesel tax, and perhaps it even ought to apply to public transportation. Higher costs for public transit as well as driving personal autos would encourage the population to start "reorganizing" around areas where they can live, work, and shop without traveling more than a few miles.

Given that our non-farming population will be forced to "densify" and consolidate around dense residential/commercial/industrial hubs when fuel supplies become truly tight, it would be well if the process were to start now.

However, public resistance to fuel tax hikes will probably be so vehement that politicians will back away in terror, especially when you consider how violent and impulse driven our population is in these times.

Anonymous said...

Kurt, would you please pass this on Hey, is that you Texas Oil?

Tom deSabla here. From the APL workshop.

So, did you know that Jim Mason wants to ask you a question?

Of course, big-mouthed me already tried to answer him.

Go to the GEK site forum, under general discussion, and you will see his thread/question on peak oil. If you like my answer, you could always say so ; )

I hope you're well and kicking butt Martin...

Tomto Martin?

Tom deSabla said...

Geez I really screwed that comment up. Kurt, could you please forward my previous message to Martin Payne? I can't comment on his blog.

Thank you so much

Tom deSabla