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Wind turbines, photovoltaics, or geothermal are not going to solve our peak oil problem

Wind turbines, photovoltaics, or geothermal are not going to solve our peak oil problem


A summary of the commentary by Tad Patzek, Peak Oil Expert and Univ. of Texas Petroleum Engineering Prof

Conventional oil production has peaked, but technology and the economics of it will lead us to find untapped oil – whether it’s tar sands in Canada or offshore drilling in ultra-deep water, and that will NOT keep up with the global growth in demand for oil.

Things can generate a lot of power at an exceedingly high cost with exceedingly complex and expensive facilities. The fact of the matter is we are going to end up going after oil in colder, wetter, deeper, less hospitable places and production gets to be more expensive every day.

In terms of unconventional oil, these wells are very expensive, and you need thousands upon thousands of them and they actually produce very little oil in terms of barrels per day. They have a very fast decline rate. Yes, we will be producing them and we will produce them better and more efficiently, more environmentally safely, however all of the unconventional wells will not replace one super-giant field in Saudi Arabia such as Ghawar.

And so countries like Indonesia and Mexico either have become, or are becoming, net importers of crude oil. They used to be huge exporters. Countries like Saudi Arabia are holding the production steady only because they still have Ghawar which produces roughly half of what they produce. Ghawar is a very mature field. By some estimates it already produced 60 percent of the oil in place, which is a marvelous result. However, that means that it doesn’t have a bright multi-decadal future. You take out 4 million barrels of oil per day from one oil field, believe me, you cannot replace it with all the tar sands in the world and all unconventional oil. That’s the problem that we have. Earth is a finite planet.

The U.S. can’t possibly become energy sufficient in its current state. There’s no way we can ever do that. However, if we are responsible not only should we be looking at producing things locally, but also we must be looking very hard at using these fuels much more wisely. We talk about replacing high power-density sources such as crude oil, natural gas and coal with dilute, very low-power resources such as photovoltaics or wind turbines. Well, these are not by a long stretch going to solve our problem. In the meantime we are forgetting that in order for these turbines or photovoltaics, or geothermal or so many other things to become even remotely viable as an alternative we have to use less power and we’re not doing anything about it, or hardly anything.

Putting passive solar heaters on every roof on every freestanding house in the Southern US to heat up the water for showers and cooking, and then during winter for warming up the house? That solution alone would save us 5 to 10 percent of the primary energy in the US and doesn't cost that much put one up on your roof. Why aren’t we coming up with these alternatives, which are cheap, simple, technologically unsophisticated and have a very high impact.

Because we don’t have the public discourse, which is telling us that power, our use of power, should be of everybody’s concern.

Corn ethanol and second-generation bio-fuels algae, sugar cane have very little promise and huge environmental cost. … I can tell you that most notions surrounding bio-fuels of whatever generation and of whatever source are simply misconceptions and again, pipe dreams, wishful thinking. It’s a sort of social escapism, where we want to believe in some fairy tale, and therefore we do, and truth be damned. Any biofuel from whatever source is a prescription and a mandate for extremely high water use.

We call it optimistic and positive attitude, when somebody’s trying to tell you the truth.

We need to start having an adult, honest, public discourse. Each individual needs to ask ourselves what can I do myself without the government programs, without massive resources and subsidies, so that I use less energy and live a better life.

Feb. 2012: North Dakota’s shale plays still only produce 0.5 million barrels of oil per day. In an average year, tiny swings in China’s appetite for crude can easily gobble all of that up. What’s more, the United States still remains the largest importer of crude oil and other refined products in the world, at about 9 million barrels of oil per day. We’re still very far from erasing that dependency.

Texas and California oil production has been in steep decline for decades.

Long-haul truck operators who are burning some 20,000-40,000 gallons diesel fuel per truck each year and all trucks use 35 billion gallons of diesel each year. Nearly all the major truck manufactures are now selling trucks that run on Liquid National Gas (LNG) so that the payback time for the additional cost of an LNG engine is now said to be less than a year. The second problem of widespread adoption of LNG trucks is getting LNG to truck stops across the country. It seems likely that the use of LNG for large trucks will become widespread by the end of the decade. Maybe if price of oil does not rise too fast and/or we don't have a war that cause an oil crisis.


At the Nov. 2009 Petroleum Geology Conference in London 66% voted that peak oil is a concern.

Running on Empty Caucus of USA Democrats

Read  “The Long Emergency”


BY RICHARD HEINBERG    Economists insist that recovery is at hand, yet unemployment remains high, real estate values continue to sink, and governments stagger under record deficits. The End of Growth proposes a startling diagnosis: humanity has reached a fundamental turning point in its economic history.

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