Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Researchers Convert Chicken Fat to Fuel


November 29, 2005

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Fuel is the thing with feathers. Hoping to find an efficient way to help power automobiles and trucks, researchers at the University of Arkansas say they have developed a way to convert chicken fat to a biodiesel fuel.

"We're trying to expand the petroleum base," said Brian Mattingly, a graduate student in chemical engineering. "Five to 20 percent blending of biodiesel into petroleum-based diesel significantly reduces our dependence on foreign oil."

Mattingly's research allows biodiesel producers to assess different materials to see what works best. Producers will be able to choose the best way to convert different grades of chicken fat into fuels.

R.E. Babcock, a professor of chemical engineering, said chicken-fat fuels are better for the environment and the machines.

"They burn better, create less particulate matter and actually lubricate and clean things like cylinders, pistons and fuel lines," Babcock said.

Traditionally, biodiesel producers have used refined products like soybean oil because they are easier to convert to fuels. However, the refining process makes soybean oil more expensive — and fuel producers must compete with grocers for the oil supply.

Chicken fat can be a less-expensive substitute because it is available at a low cost. However, fatty acids in raw chicken fat can lead to the creation of soap during the various chemical processes.

In his studies, Mattingly used high-quality fat (less than 2 percent fatty acid content) and low-quality, feed-grade fat (6 percent fatty acid content) obtained from Tyson Foods Inc. plants in Clarksville and Scranton. The high-quality fat is more expensive than the feed-grade fat, but both are less expensive than soybean oil.

It took different steps to refine the different fats, but it could be done, Mattingly said.
"The project demonstrated that there is a very fine line between facilitating an adequate reaction and generating so much soap that the biodiesel yield is diminished," Mattingly said. "Basically, deciding which method to use comes down to economics."

Michael Popp, an associate professor of agricultural economics, said it is too early to tell if making biodiesel fuel from chicken fat is economically feasible.
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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Energy crunch and opportunity

Blue Ridge Business Journal

By Diane Price
November 28, 2005

Frequently, energy awareness starts in our wallets. The impact of rising costs of oil and natural gas consumption is endemic. Even at local laundromats newly posted signs read: "Due to the increase in energy costs we are forced to raise our dryer prices."

As oil and natural gas costs escalate, Virginians are seeking information on alternative energy resources to save money, especially during the winter heating months.

"There is no need for a huge increase in prices in oil," says John H. Saunders, financial advisor and wealth advisory specialist at Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc. in Roanoke. "If you look at the raw data, there is adequate financial stats and heating oil in the system. The other types of energy, before they can have a major impact on the economy, there will have to be usage going up. There is unlikely to be a short-term blip in those alternative energy sources.

"Clearly, the energy firms are profiting handsomely, as are intermediaries. They are all profiting handsomely in light of the higher energy prices. If you look at the demand and supply of refined petroleum products, we have enough in inventory." Today, about 90 percent of vehicular fuel needs are met by oil. To cut costs by getting more miles per gallon consumers are buying hybrids; still others are waiting for the hybrids to improve.

"There is really no difference in the hybrids and our other cars, except the hybrids are practically zero emissions," says Chuck Baker, general manager, Hayley Toyota in Roanoke. "People often buy them because they are great cars for the environment. They are considered green cars." Popular hybrids for 2006 are the Ford Escape, the Honda Civic and the growing Toyota cadre of hybrids: the Highlander Hybrid and Lexus RX 400h hybrid SUVs, and the Prius hybrid sedan.

More hybrids

"The wait is a little bit longer now for the Prius," says Baker. "It has been in high demand, and low supply since it came out in 2001." Toyota will introduce a hybrid version of its top-selling Camry sedan next year, as well as a hybrid version of the Lexus GS luxury sedan.

Helping to drive up the hybrid market are incentives: If you buy a hybrid new, you may be eligible for a one-time federal income tax deduction of up to $2,000. According to the Association of Peak Oil & Gas, of the 235 million vehicles licensed today, only 275,000 are hybrid electrics.

As the hybrid market matures, so will bio-diesel fuels, a 20 percent soybean-based bio-diesel, with a federal "blender tax credit" of up to 99 cents a gallon for fuel containing bio-diesel. The bio-diesel fuels are now competitive, if not cheaper. "In the states there is also a micro economic factor with investment in soybean-related stock," says Saunders. "There is growth and demand for vegetarian foods. There are other factors at work driving interest in investing in soybean related companies."

Some analysts are saying for now, buy bio-diesel. Much of the commercially sold bio-diesel is domestically made from soybeans. Bio-fuels are energy-containing fuels derived from biomass "biomass" refers to organic materials derived from plants or animals]. Manufactured from vegetable oil, bio-diesel can be used in pure form or blended with diesel to make a cleaner-burning fuel that reduces vehicle emissions. Locally, Public Policy Virginia ( is planning an educational forum in Danville on December 10th that will focus on bio-fuels that can be grown economically in Southside Virginia as a viable source of biomass for ethanol, as well as a potential economic boon to the region's farmers and local economy, moving our nation away from dependence on foreign oil, and keeping millions of additional dollars in the local economy.


Generally, renewable energy alternatives are on the rise. Findings indicate we may soon rely on fuel cells (which convert a fuel, such as hydrogen, into electricity, with no pollution), or hydrogen power (a clean fuel with great potential), or solar and wind power. And, there's coal.

"People are investing in options. It is not necessarily related to the price of oil. For example, in coal, it is that the old coal companies-with their high-cost structures and their unattractive benefit burden, and labor agreements with unionized work forces- have gone out of business," says Saunders. "Newly formed companies that don't have to carry the burden of those past agreements have acquired their assets. There is a micro-economic factor at work supporting coal in particular."

Coal creates more than half of all the electricity made in the U.S., and we seem to have an inexhaustible reservoir of coal. Coal prices from central Appalachia have doubled-from $30 per ton to $60 per ton-over the past year. With U.S. coal production at record highs, coal companies are hiring again. Good news for Virginia, as the ninth-largest coal producing state in America, and particularly good news in the coal area of Southwest Virginia, where the industry employs 5,000 people (down from 10,000 in 1987).

From digging coal under the ground to up in the sky, solar companies are growing in Virginia. Out of 30 solar businesses scattered throughout the Commonwealth, three solar businesses found homes in Broadway, Christiansburg and Vesuvius.

Solar energy bodes well for future energy use. Unlike fossil fuels, the sun's radiant energy does not have to be burned to be useful, and it does not produce air pollutants. Although the equipment for collecting solar energy can be costly, the sun's energy has no cost.

Solar studies

Colleges in the region are pushing the envelop and research on solar energy possibilities, like in the 2005 Solar Decathlon, where Virginia Tech won the two top categories, architecture and livability (dwelling) awards, and placed fourth in the overall competition.

"There were 18 schools involved as far away as Madrid, Spain included in the Solar Decathlon competition this past October in Washington, D.C. One of the categories dealt with the manufacture and distribution of the solar houses," says Ben Johnson, professor of landscape architecture at Virginia Tech. "Our notion was not simply research, it was the application to society, and the business application to manufacture. Ours is a very buildable house."

Energy-saving products abound in Virginia Tech's solar house. A key part of solar collection is solar insulation panels that prevent the heat inside a solar collector from moving to the outside where the temperature is lower.

Talk has it that people are looking at 50 percent higher costs to heat their homes. Part of the cost from rising oil prices has impacted the price of insulation material. "It went up 9 percent, across the board November 14. All the insulation manufacturers went up 9 percent," says Wayne Toler, president of Toler Insulation in Lynchburg. "That happened, then my products went up 9 percent."

Regular insulation is in peak demand this winter. "In the residential marketplace we have seen an instant impact of people saying, 'I need to do something before winter' to try to cut the problems," says Toler. "My expenses on fuel for running 20 vehicles this year cost more. By August of this year, I paid out in fuel what it cost for all of 2004." Both the insulation and window replacement businesses at Toler Insulation doubled this year.

"The smart investors are selling oil and buying other energy producers. The other group of stocks that have benefited greatly from the hurricane season have been natural resources companies," says Saunders. "All of those stocks are trading at high multiples" Wind energy has media attention, along with solar power and biomass. In Virginia, favorable wind locations are located in the western mountains, and along the Atlantic coast. No commercial wind-energy generators operate within the state.

Then, there is hydropower (the energy exerted by water, as it moves in response to the force of gravity), perhaps one of the oldest sources of energy. In Virginia, more than 16 percent of the state's combined utility and non-utility generating capacity is hydroelectric.

Geothermal energy is yet another renewable resource that taps into the earth's internal heat to create electricity and to heat and cool buildings. There are numerous determinations of temperature and geothermal gradient in Blacksburg and Bridgewater.

It all takes energy

Encouragement of nuclear plants in Virginia runs high. They are relatively inexpensive to run, and they emit virtually no air pollutants. The only significant environmental concern is for nearby waterways used to cool the reactors (that and, of course, the potential of a meltdown). Nuclear plants generate about 20 percent of the nation's electricity and 34 percent of Dominion Virginia Power's consumer load.

All this begs but one question: With increased demand and adoption of alternative energy products and solutions, is it possible to offset the rising costs of petroleum?

"Most people lose sight of, whether it is wind-generation system, solar power or solar-thermal, that all these materials are rooted in petroleum. It takes energy to make the metal for the wind-generator housing; it takes energy to make the aluminum on the panels; and, all of these things are rooted in petroleum," answers Bob Schubert, associate dean for research and outreach at the college of architecture and urban studies at Virginia Tech. "With the increased demand of solar panels, or petroleum, the costs should come down."

That's hard to envision, as reports this year find that Royal Dutch Shell reported a 68 percent jump in profits in October, to $9.03 billion; Chevron posted a profit of more than $4 billion; and Exxon chalked up record earnings as its third-quarter net income jumped 75 percent, to $9.92 billion. This year's sales, which topped $100 billion in the last quarter, are expected to exceed those of Wal-Mart.

Then, there is Wal-Mart. Over the next three years, Wal-Mart expects to get 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources, cut energy use in stores by 30 percent and cut fuel consumption in its truck fleet by 25 percent, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Energy efficiency and renewable energy, including numerous solar PV arrays, small wind turbines, a bio-fuel boiler to recycle and burn recovered oil from store operations, and a nearly endless list of energy-saving and sustainable design principles, are part of its corporate goals for its U.S. stores.

"If we are going to change society, those cultural patterns that we live by, then we have to find ways of doing it so that it is acceptable for society to change," says Johnson. "We have to lead that change opposed to whatever goes to hell in a handbasket that we do."

While skeptics among us may suspect Wal-Mart of promoting social-good efforts to escape the label of a sweatshop, Wal-Mart is now the undisputed champion for cultural change in adopting renewable energy resources.

(Diane Price is the CEO of ASAVI, a creative ideas and solutions corporation with an office in Lynchburg.

Crude Oil Price Portal Turns Peak Oil Price Into Investment Opportunity


November 28, 2005

Rising oil prices have many investors concerned, but predicts investment opportunity.

For Immediate Release

PORTLAND, Ore./EWORLDWIRE/Nov. 28, 2005 --- today announced the release of its new and improved crude oil price portal which offers free live oil quotes, price forecasts and advice to investors on how to benefit from high oil prices.

The free portal gives constant live market quotes and charts for crude oil and predicts future prices based on historical activity and current trends.

By also providing guidance and investment advice, the portal allows investors to benefit from high oil prices and "peak oil."

Peak oil is an influential theory concerning the long-term rate of conventional oil (and other fossil fuel) extraction and depletion. Based on current information about known oil reserves, this theory predicts that world oil production will peak around the year 2007.

Meanwhile, demand for crude oil is increasing, leading to a peak in crude oil price. Crude oil price has a direct impact on gasoline prices and all sectors of the economy.

By visiting the portal daily, investors can accurately track the progress of crude oil, today's most important factor in making wise investment decisions.

Visitors to benefit from timely critical information regarding the oil market, both on weekdays and weekends when crude oil is traded.

This wealth of information gives visitors of a definite edge over regular investors in today's energy-conscious economy.

Scientist urges world to get serious about oil crisis

November 30, 2005

The world's politicians should act decisively to help reduce the wasteful use of oil, as a growing gap looms between demand and supply, Swedish physicist Kjell Aleklett says.

Speaking yesterday at the trans-Tasman Solar 2005 energy conference hosted by the University of Otago, Professor Aleklett of Upssala University, Sweden, who is president of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas, warned that big problems would result from the peaking of world oil production .

A combination of declining supply from existing oil fields, and rising global demand for oil meant there was already a potential shortfall of about five billion barrels of oil a year.

Beyond 2008, a growing gap between supply and demand was likely to be felt, he said.

Many nations faced a "democratic dilemma" over dwindling oil supplies.

What was now needed was for politicians to warn about potential problems, and to advise that things might be even worse unless necessary changes were made.

Improved telecommunications meant people could now communicate electronically rather than always travelling to distant locations for face-to-face meetings, he said.

Working more collaboratively with other nations would also be important in future, given that most of the remaining large oil and gas resources were in Islamic countries.

Prof Aleklett will address a commission considering peak oil matters at the US House of Representatives in Washington DC on December 7.

About 120 people - including Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons - are attending the three-day solar energy conference, which ends today.,2106,3495789a11,00.html

Monday, November 28, 2005

Syriana and Iraq

History News Network

By Mark A. LeVine
November 27, 2005

Critics have been hailing "Syriana," George Clooney's latest film to take on the policies of the Bush Administration, as a cinematic tour de force that has "compelling real-world relevance" and is "unsettlingly close to the truth." But what is the truth "Syriana" supposedly approaches? Put briefly, the plot describes the ramification of a bungled CIA-authorized assassination of a Middle Eastern leader who decided to sign a major oil deal with China instead of an American oil company with close ties to the US Government.

Given the increasing numbers of Americans who believe that the Bush administration deliberately misled the country to justify the Iraqi invasion, many film-goers will no doubt walk accept the film's argument that Big Oil shapes American policies to its interests, even when they violate our core ideals. But is the movie really a case of art imitating life, or does "Syriana" veer towards the kind of hyperbole and exaggeration that marred Oliver Stone's "JFK?"

The evidence would seem to speak for itself. It includes:

- Newly discovered documents, reported in the Washington Post, that reveal that as early as February 2001 senior executives of at least four of the country's biggest oil companies, ExxonMobil, Conoco, Shell and BP America, met with Vice President Cheney's Energy Task Force.

- Documents from these meetings obtained by the conservative watchdog Judicial Watch--including a map of Iraq and an accompanying list of "Iraq oil foreign suitors"--reveal Iraq, with perhaps the world's second largest oil deposits, to have been a major topic of discussion. Indeed, the map erased all features of the country save the location of its main oil deposits. The list of suitors revealed that dozens of foreign companies were either in discussions over or in direct negotiations for rights to some of the best remaining oilfields on earth.

- The meetings occurred at a moment when scientists and industry leaders began worrying that the "age of peak oil production" is approaching faster than previously assumed. Once it arrives, it will no longer be possible to extract enough oil from the earth to replace what we consume, thereby setting off a potentially explosive competition for the world's remaining supplies.

- In such a scenario, insuring American access to, and where possible leverage or even control over, the world's major oil deposits would be a natural concern for an Administration umbilically tied to Big Oil, particularly in the context of escalating competition with an aggressive, energy-hungry China.

- A 2002 report by Deutsche Bank explained the major US companies would lose if Saddam made a deal with the UN, whereas the Europeans, Russians and Chinese would come out ahead. But in a post-Saddam Iraq, the report argued, the US oil majors--specifically, according to the report, ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco--could manage the country's resources. No wonder the executives of those companies denied meeting with Cheney's staff only weeks after George W. Bush's inauguration.

- At the very moment the first Energy Task Force meetings with industry officials were held, in February 2001, the National Security Council issued a directive for staff to cooperate with the Energy Task Force in the "melding" of new "operational policies towards rogue states" with "actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields." No place on earth was more amenable to such melding than Iraq.

- Two and a half yeas after the US-led invasion of Iraq, the Bush Administration continues to resist calls for a major troop withdrawal, despite the fact that most intelligence reports, and Iraq politicians, confirm our presence to be the main motivation for the insurgency.

With American losses and expenditures mounting daily, the threat of WMD disproved, the promise of peace and democracy seeming increasingly pollyanish, the Bush Administration is running out of good reasons for the US to maintain a long-term presence in Iraq. Two that come to mind, however, are oil and military bases--subjects, needless to say, that remain largely unbroachable in polite discourse in Washington or Baghdad.

But it's hard to think of anything else that would constitute the "core interests" both the Bush Administration and leading democrats (most recently Senator Joseph Biden) argue will be threatened by an American withdrawal from Iraq any time soon.

It took roughly fifty years for the CIA to admit that it organized the overthrow of Iranian President Mossadeqh when he dared to nationalize his country's oil industry. Our government also helped organize coups that put the Baath Party in power in Iraq twice, in 1963 and 1968. There's no doubt who was behind the toppling of Saddam. The question that remains, however, is: What was the real reason we invaded Iraq? On that score, "Syriana" hits closer to home than most politicians on either side of the aisle would care to admit.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Can oil production satisfy rising demand?

USA Today

By David J. Lynch
November 24, 2005

WASHINGTON — Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman has asked a high-level advisory board to answer one of the toughest questions dogging the U.S. economy: Can world oil production meet steadily rising demand?

In a previously unreleased Oct. 5 letter to ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond, chairman of the National Petroleum Council, Bodman asked for a study of the industry's ability to produce enough oil and natural gas at prices that won't cripple the economy.

"He's asked them to take a big-picture look out several years. ... He wants to get some definitive information," says Craig Stevens, an Energy Department spokesman.

The most noteworthy aspect of Bodman's request is a reference to the "peak oil" debate. At issue: the claim by a vocal minority of energy experts that the world is at, or near, maximum oil production.

That doesn't mean the world is running out of oil. But as booming economies in China and India boost demand, and production levels off, prices will rise. "Oil isn't a concept. It needs to be discovered and produced," says Matthew Simmons, author of a recent book questioning the extent of Saudi Arabia's oil reserves.

Avoiding economic turmoil will require more than a decade of "intense, expensive effort," according to a February study by Science Applications International for the Energy Department. The U.S. would need to build alternative fuel plants and greatly increase vehicle fuel efficiency.

"If peaking is imminent, failure to initiate timely mitigation could be extremely damaging," the report warned.

Many oil industry figures scoff at the peak oil theory, saying rising prices will spur exploration. The International Energy Agency last month agreed, saying oil reserves in the Middle East are "relatively underexploited and are sufficient to meet rising global demand for the next quarter-century and beyond."

Some also doubt that consumption will rise in line with current forecasts of 2% annual growth. China's economy could stumble and American consumers could ditch their gas-guzzlers for more-efficient vehicles. "People will react. They're not going to keep doing what they're doing," says Jim Parkman, an investment banker at Petrie Parkman in Houston.

But the debate is affecting oil company marketing. A Chevron ad asks: "The world consumes two barrels of oil for every barrel discovered. So is this something you should be worried about?"

The NPC study is intended to answer that question. The roster of the 175-member body, created in 1947 by President Truman, reads like a "who's who" of the petroleum industry. The council is chaired by Raymond, CEO of the nation's largest oil company.

That causes Simmons to doubt whether the NPC will endorse the peak oil camp. But Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., who met with President Bush this summer to urge government action, says: "Any thinking person has to recognize at some point the world is going to face a crisis."

Friday, November 25, 2005

Move past era of oil, experts say

The News & Observer

By Greg Gordon
Washington Bureau

November 25, 2005

Former CIA Director James Woolsey paints a dire scenario: A terrorist attack causes a months-long, 6 million-barrel reduction in Saudi Arabia's daily petroleum output, sending the price of oil skyrocketing past $100 a barrel.

Industry banker and author Matthew Simmons says the kingdom's oil fields are deteriorating anyway. And a recent New York Times story cited an intelligence report suggesting the Saudis lack the capacity to pump as much oil as they boast they can.

Even if nothing disrupts the projected flow of Middle East petroleum, Energy Department consultants warned earlier this year that "the world is fast approaching the inevitable peaking" of global oil production -- a problem "unlike any faced by modern industrial society."

They wrote that the United States and other nations are in a race with the clock to find alternative sources for oil, "the lifeblood of modern civilization," and avoid potential economic disaster.

Congress Notices

After years -- or even decades -- of sitting on the fringe of the world oil debate, Congress is starting to pay attention to the issue of what to do when production dwindles.

This month, a bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators proposed legislation to accelerate the nation's shift to new energy sources in the transportation sector, which accounts for two-thirds of America's oil consumption, guzzling 14 million barrels of oil each day.

Warning of a potential crisis, they proposed billions of dollars in tax incentives to spur development of vehicles powered by electric batteries, diesel, ethanol and exhaust-free hydrogen fuel cells. In the House, 16 co-sponsors want all U.S. gasoline to contain a 10 percent blend of renewable fuel, as only Minnesota requires now.

If peaking production or rising demand lead to shortfalls of oil before a shift to alternative sources occurs, the global effect could be huge, the Energy Department consultants wrote. They said U.S. costs from a prolonged oil shortage could reach $4 trillion.

Developed countries would face inflation, rising unemployment and recession, they wrote, while Third World nations "will likely be even worse off."

Hurdles seen

U.S. companies and government agencies already are exploring the energy alternatives proposed by the senators, but progress has come at less-than- breakneck speed.

Experts say that high startup costs, technological hurdles, tepid consumer demand for pricier, fuel-efficient vehicles and other obstacles likely will prevent such products from significantly reducing U.S. oil imports for a decade or more without government intervention.

Critics say the energy bill that President Bush signed into law last summer will only modestly reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. It offers tax credits ranging up to $3,000, beginning Jan. 1, for early buyers of hybrids or diesel-powered vehicles, but it does not toughen 25-year-old fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks.

Woolsey said in an interview that the administration is no longer "just asleep on these issues" but that the government still isn't moving swiftly enough to bring new technologies to full-scale production.

Reserves are up

Not everyone agrees that oil production is nearing a peak. "I don't think the evidence is there," said Daniel Yergin, founder of Massachusetts-based Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

His team of geologists and petroleum engineers has done an oil field-by-oil field analysis and concluded that world oil production capacity will increase by nearly 20 percent between 2004 and 2010, and that since the 1990s discoveries of new oil reserves have exceeded production.

Yergin, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1991 book chronicling the history of the oil industry, said he supports the search for more fuel-efficient technologies. But since the 1990s, he argued, the world has "added more oil [reserves] than has been produced."

In addition, some of the fuel squeeze could be eased by oil and mining companies' breakthroughs in finding new techniques for extracting oil from Canadian tar sands and even ways to convert some of the nation's vast coal resources to petroleum.

Keeping pace

The energy consultants' report said new oil discoveries are distantly trailing new demand, and no "super giant" oil field has been found in more than 35 years. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which the Senate recently voted to open for oil drilling, might qualify. It would produce no petroleum for a decade, then would pump 1 million barrels a day -- still less than 5 percent of current U.S. consumption.

Others say global demand is rising so quickly that new oil discoveries alone cannot keep pace. Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., said that on a recent visit to Beijing, Chinese officials told him the number of cars and trucks there will surge from 24 million to 140 million by 2020.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration has projected the year 2037 as the most likely date for a global oil production peak, but the Energy Department consulting team led by Robert Hirsch said it found another EIA scenario for a peak in 2016 to be "much more credible."

Woolsey is among a group of neoconservatives who have voiced national security concerns over the United States' importation of 62 percent of its oil, given the instability in the oil-rich Middle East and other Third World, oil-producing nations.

"Whatever you think about peak oil," Woolsey said, "you need to be concerned about the possibility that in the very near term at any point, ... regime change, government policy change or terrorist attacks could put a major, and perhaps even a long-duration spike on oil prices. ... We need to move away from oil in either case."

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Peak Oil Crisis: Solutions a First Cut

Falls Church News-Press

By Tom Whipple
November 24, 2005

After a thorough airing of "whether" and "when", the Denver peak oil conference moved to the murkier issue of "So, what do we do about it?"

The current answer, of course, is to keep drilling. Do whatever it takes — cut taxes, forget air quality, drill in the parks, drill on the seacoasts, drill in the arctic, drill everywhere there is a hint of more oil. As the "more drilling" policy has limited prospects, the Denver conference explored the four major alternatives that could produce large quantities of liquid fuel— shale, tar sands, coal to liquid, and biomass.

Shale can be dismissed quickly as being impractical for the foreseeable future on a large scale because it requires too much energy and entails too much of a threat to the environment.

Meanwhile, billions continue to be spent to increase oil production from the Alberta tar sands. Current plans call for 2 million barrels a day by 2010 and perhaps 5 million by 2030. For a world which currently consumes 84 million b/d, the tar sands, which have all sorts of environmental issues connected with extracting the oil, will never replace conventional oil on the scale it is currently being consumed.

Large-scale conversion of coal to liquid fuel is the first alternative source showing promise to produce liquid fuels on the scale of millions of barrels per day in the next decade or two. The technology has been around for 60 years and was used extensively by Germany during World War II and more recently by South Africa . Although the process relies on non-renewable fossil coal as a feedstock, the world still has large coal reserves. Moreover, modern conversion methods can do much to remove air-polluting impurities during the processing into liquid fuels. A number of organizations are beginning to plan for large-scale coal conversion facilities, and this will only be accelerated as the price of conventional oil climbs higher and higher.

One of the highlights of the oil conference was a report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) about the progress being made on producing liquid fuels from renewable biomass. For those not familiar with the concept, fuels and chemicals can be made from trees, grasses, agricultural crops, animal and human wastes, and algae.

Recently, research has focused on using enzymes to convert non-edible plants such as trees and grasses into ethanol. Studies have shown that some 1 billion tons of lignocellulosic biomass (trees, grasses, etc.) could be grown in the US each year. The NREL believes the conversion of this amount of renewable grass and trees to liquid fuels could supply 50-70 percent of the US 's requirements.

New sources of biomass, along with increased use of conventional biodiesel and ethanol produced from soybean and corns as gasoline substitutes, suggests the future for the farmer and the agriculture industry in general looks brighter than it has for decades. Indeed, if a significant part of liquid fuel production becomes the responsibility of farmers, we could see a conflict between food and biomass-for-fuel production that would drive food prices significantly higher.

However, the major problem with large-scale production of liquid fuels from coal and biomass is the massive amounts of capital and the years required to build the plants to do the conversion. If worldwide oil depletion sets in within the next five years, there is likely to be a period of many years during which there will be major shortages of liquid fuels in the quantities we have been consuming.

During the coming decades, we are going to have to make decisions about how to allocate decreased amounts of liquid fuels among many competing uses. One of the guidelines will be to reduce the use of high-energy liquid fuels wherever there is an acceptable substitute.

For example, electric or even coal-powered trains could replace a large portion of long-haul truck traffic. The advent of lightweight electric or ultra-high mileage hybrid cars could eliminate a significant portion of the gasoline consumption. On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine the technology that would allow a large airplane to fly on coal or electricity. There will clearly be a need for some liquid fuels many years into the future.

One thing becoming clearer all the time is that better electric storage batteries are going to make a big difference. Should a reliable battery with much denser energy storage and much faster recharge times become available (at affordable prices), it would go a long ways to smoothing the transition from petroleum based liquid fuels to renewables. Lithium-ion batteries are already demonstrating that currently available cars can achieve more than 100 miles per gallon for large portions of their daily use. Cars optimized for these batteries could presumably do much better.

One of the more interesting presentations at the conference was the role electric vehicles with big rechargeable batteries could play when paired to interact with a residence. A large car battery could help store excess solar and wind electricity, coming only intermittently, for use around a home at night. The same batteries could be recharged off the grid during the night when the power company has excess capacity.

At the moment, our future transportation is starting to look like biomass and big batteries.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Recent Appearances of the Virgin Mary

Yes, I know, not really Peak Oil related... but these are just too weird.

Apparently, right now, a statue of the Virgin Mary is crying blood in Sacramento, CA. Here are links to news stories, including photos of the statue:;s=1;w=430

Apparently after Hurricane Wilma struck Mexico an image of the Virgin Mary appeared:

I debated posting these on a Peak Oil blog so feel free to send comments to peakoil20@yahoo - dot -com.


Syriana, a major Hollywood production staring George Clooney and Matt Damon, will come out in wide release on December 9. It deals with energy issues, and in it gas is $20 a gallon, 30% of Americans can't heat their homes, and world powers are fighting for the last remaining oil supplies in the middle east. Sounds like a decent prediction of what will happen as Peak Oil arrives. Here is an excerpt from a review:

[Syriana] even gives us a few worst-case projections on what could happen if America lost its oil supply. If I had to pick a favorite moment, it would be Damon's smart-ass monologue ("You want to know what the business world thinks of you? We think 100 years ago you were living out here in tents in the desert chopping each other's heads off, and that's exactly where you're going to be in another 100."

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Peak Oil resolution in US House of Representatives

Global Public Media

November 21, 2005

A peak oil bill has been filed in the House of Representatives with the support of the newly formed Peak Oil Caucus, founded by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (Rep, MD) and a number of co-sponsors. The members of the caucus are James McGovern, Vern Ehlers, Tom Udall, Mark Udall, Raul Grijalva, Wayne Gilchrest, Jim Moran, Dennis Moore.

Co-sponsors are Tom Udall, Virgil Goode, Raul Grijalva, Walter Jones, Tom Tancredo, Phil Gingrey, Randy Kuhl, Steve Israel, G.K. Butterfield, Mark Udall, Chris Van Hollen, Wayne Gilchrest, Al Wynn, John McHugh, Jim Moran, and Dennis Moore.

Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the United States, in collaboration with other international allies, should establish an energy project with the magnitude, creativity, and sense of urgency that was incorporated in the `Man on the Moon' project to address the inevitable challenges of `Peak Oil'.

October 24, 2005

Mr. BARTLETT of Maryland (for himself, Mr. UDALL of New Mexico, Mr. GOODE, Mr. GRIJALVA, Mr. JONES of North Carolina, Mr. TANCREDO, Mr. GINGREY, Mr. KUHL of New York, Mr. ISRAEL, Mr. BUTTERFIELD, Mr. UDALL of Colorado, Mr. VAN HOLLEN, Mr. GILCHREST, and Mr. WYNN) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce


Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the United States, in collaboration with other international allies, should establish an energy project with the magnitude, creativity, and sense of urgency that was incorporated in the `Man on the Moon' project to address the inevitable challenges of `Peak Oil'.
Whereas the United States has only 2 percent of the world's oil reserves; Whereas the United States produces 8 percent of the world's oil and consumes 25 percent of the world's oil, of which nearly 60 percent is imported from foreign countries.

Whereas developing countries around the world are increasing their demand for oil consumption at rapid rates; for example, the average consumption increase, by percentage, from 2003 to 2004 for the countries of Belarus, Kuwait, China, and Singapore was 15.9 percent.

Whereas the United States consumed more than 937,000,000 tonnes of oil in 2004, and that figure could rise in 2005 given previous projection trends.

Whereas, as fossil energy resources become depleted, new, highly efficient technologies will be required in order to sustainably tap replenishable resources.

Whereas the Shell Oil scientist M. King Hubbert accurately predicted that United States domestic production would peak in 1970, and a growing number of petroleum experts believe that the peak in the world's oil production (Peak Oil) is likely to occur in the next decade while demand continues to rise.

Whereas North American natural gas production has also peaked; Whereas the United States is now the world's largest importer of both petroleum and natural gas.

Whereas the population of the United States is increasing by nearly 30,000,000 persons every decade;
Whereas the energy density in one barrel of oil is the equivalent of eight people working full time for one year;
Whereas affordable supplies of petroleum and natural gas are critical to national security and energy prosperity; and Whereas the United States has approximately 250 years of coal at current consumption rates, but if that consumption rate is increased by 2 percent per year, coal reserves are reduced to 75 years:

Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that-- (1) in order to keep energy costs affordable, curb our environmental impact, and safeguard economic prosperity, including our trade deficit, the United States must move rapidly to increase the productivity with which it uses fossil fuel, and to accelerate the transition to renewable fuels and a sustainable, clean energy economy; and (2) the United States, in collaboration with other international allies, should establish an energy project with the magnitude, creativity, and sense of urgency of the `Man on the Moon' project to develop a comprehensive plan to address the challenges presented by Peak Oil.

Oil prices surge overnight

ABC Online (Australia)

November 22, 2005

TONY EASTLEY: World oil prices surged overnight prompted by forecasts that the northern hemisphere may be in for a harsh winter that would stretch oil supplies.

But this may just be a sign of things to come, with some oil analysts predicting that the global supply of oil may be about to peak as early as next year.

The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas is an international organisation of scientists, which is working to determine the timing and effect of the oil peak and subsequent decline in production.

The Association has just been launched in Australia by its international President, Swedish physicist Kjell Aleklett.Professor Aleklett has been speaking to our reporter Andrew Geoghegan.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Professor Aleklett, you're talking about a permanent shortfall in global oil supply. Just explain to us the concept of peak oil.

KJELL ALEKLETT: That's the time when the production cannot keep up with what demand is. That means that you will get a lower production some year compared to the year before, even if you like to buy more. And that of course means that it will be harder and harder to get the oil, and the price probably will go up.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: So when do you think this is likely to happen?

KJELL ALEKLETT: It will happen some time between now and 2020. And it will probably hit around 2010.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: We've already seen the effect high supply and short demand have on oil prices. What effect will this have?

KJELL ALEKLETT: It depends on how you prepare for this. If you prepare for this the effect might not be so hard, and that's one reason why we in ASPOG like to get people aware about this future.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: So what is your organisation set up to do?

KJELL ALEKLETT: First of all, we like to inform people as much as possible about this future and that it's coming, because when you talk about energy, it's long-term planning. And I can mention, for instance, that the Government in Sweden now has decided to put up a committee that will try to make Sweden less dependent on oil in the year 2020.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Taking a look at Australia, for instance, what effect is this having, particularly when we have such a great dependence on oil?

KJELL ALEKLETT: It is harder, probably, for you to fix this, and if you don't start now, it will be even harder in the future to do it.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: So is this simply a matter of finding alternative energy sources?

KJELL ALEKLETT: That's one big thing, the other thing is that you have to find an alternative way to live sometimes also, and try to be more careful when you use fossil fuel and coal and oil in the future.

TONY EASTLEY: Professor Kjell Aleklett speaking there, with Andrew Geoghegan.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Political Wrangling Over Iraq War Misses Big Issues

The Chatanoogan

Opinion Piece
November 18, 2005

It is likely that the Bush Aministration cajoled intelligence information to bolster their desire to go to war in Iraq. It is likely that they would have gone to Iraq without Congressional approval. All the current name calling, debate, and accusations feel like deja vu. I, we, have already many times been subjected to these debates. This is old news, and only when there is strong, significant evidence that the Administration "misled" Congress or the American voters...i.e. "lied"...will we be able to move past the current debate and political wrangling.

What we need to do in the interim is come to grips with the Big Issue that is rarely discussed...Oil, and the distinct possibility that that the world's second largest reserves are in Iraq. Believe me when I suggest that the war for fossil fuel dominance has begun, and likely long before our invasion of Iraq.

If you are not yet familiar with the concept of "Peak Oil." I suggest you "google it." We are dangerously near such a peak in oil production, and a world beyond such a peak will likely be rife with conflict. The U.S. has roughly 5% of the global population, and uses roughly 25% of global oil production. We are, and have been devoid of a clear strategy to overcome our dependance on oil, especially that from foreign sources. China and India are coming on strong in their need for oil. They need it to fuel industry, to drive cars, etc. Their combined populations far and away exceed our 5%.

The struggle for fossil fuel dominance is on. Iraq is an act in a play. What we as a people need to decide is our willingness, or not, to sacrifice the lives of our military personnel and the lives of countless others, in order to prolong our current way of life.I have made my decision. I only have to ask what would Jesus think, what we he do? Where does war and killing fit into the larger Christian ethic? The answer is simple. It does not fit, does not jive, and is altogether conflicting.

Jeff Campbell

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Peak Oil Crisis: Sythesizing the Power Points

Falls Church News-Press

By Tom Whipple
November 17, 2005

The Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) was formed in Europe circa 2001. After four years, the Association decided it could more effectively educate the world about the advent of peak oil by breaking up into national organizations. At last report, 15 national ASPOs are in some stage of formation – mostly in Europe .

Last week ASPO-USA, a not yet fully formed organization, had its first meeting in Denver . Some 450 people showed up to hear an array of knowledgeable speakers on nearly every aspect of when world oil production will peak and what we can or should do about it.

The top issue —is peak oil imminent and if so when— was discussed in depth by five respected and highly qualified speakers. The heart of their presentations was simple:

  • The world is currently producing about 85 million barrels per day (mb/d).
  • As long as the world’s economy continues to grow, it will need another 1-2 mb/d each year.
  • Production from the fields that are currently producing our 85 mb/d is continuously dropping. The optimists say this depletion is as little as 2.5 percent each year, while credible pessimists are saying 8 percent a year may be more realistic.
  • The answer to the rate of depletion question (and we won’t know for several years) is the key to the "when" of peak oil. If the depletion rate is only 2.5 percent then existing fields will still be producing about 74 mb/d in 2010. This amount can possibly be offset by production from new fields with a little left over for some economic growth. If the depletion rate is much higher then supply will not cover demand and we will see much higher priced oil.

This is the peak oil debate in a nutshell. It is the interplay between the worldwide demand as determined by price, the rate at which existing fields are depleting, and the oil industry's ability to bring new fields into production in the next five years. All this will determine the year when production peaks.

Differences among the speakers as to when peaking will occur hinge on their opinions about these variables. All, however, seemed to agree that we should see the peak within the next five years or so.

The most disturbing number presented at the conference was that the world's depletion rate may be as high as 8 percent. An 8 percent depletion rate for production from existing fields would be catastrophic because production would drop by nearly 30 mb/d by 2010. This is an amount that simply cannot be made up by production from new fields. If this rapid decline comes to pass, there will be widespread economic disruption, for there is little we can do to increase the production of substitute energy sources so quickly.

Several speakers are concerned there are not enough drilling rigs in the world and not enough experienced people to operate them. Even the eternally optimistic Saudis, while in the midst of announcing their expansion plans last week, caveated that these plans might slip due to the unavailability of sufficient drilling rigs. The damage and loss of drilling rigs during recent hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico did little to help the situation. Indeed, there is some thought that the hurricanes did so much damage (some 730,000 b/d are still not back in production) and will require so many resources to repair, they will turn out to be a major reason why peak oil will occur sooner rather than later.

One speaker emphasized the precarious political situation in the major exporting countries— tribal unrest in Nigeria, re-nationalization of oil in Russia, chaos in the Middle East, and the biggest threat to the US of all, the assassination of Venezuelan President Chavez. If Chavez were assassinated, the price of oil is likely to climb to over $100 per barrel within 48 hours. Should fighting over his replacement ensue, the US could lose about 14 percent of our oil supply within two weeks.

After dealing with the "when" question, the conference turned to "what can we can we do about it". It was reiterated by several speakers that what we are about to confront is a "liquid fuels" rather than an "energy" crisis. It is conventional wisdom that once we all grasp that oil depletion is a fact of life; we will do everything we can to mitigate the situation by finding other sources to power our vehicles. For now choices seem to be non-conventional oil (tar sands, shale, and heavy oil), liquefy coal, and biomass. Of the three, only biomass is sustainable and may indeed be the only choice feasible on a scale of tens of millions of barrels per day.

The highlight of the first ASPO-USA conference may have been when Congressman Roscoe Bartlett asked if we really want to "mitigate" by spending all our treasure to produce oil substitutes after peak oil arrives. Would we not be better off if we started moving towards a world with minimal consumption of liquid fuels as soon as possible?

Right now the cry is "find more oil". Forget the environment and drill wherever and as much as necessary. The International Energy Agency is suggesting that with an investment of a mere $17 trillion (that's right trillion with a "tr") to find, produce, and refine oil, life-as-we-know-it can go on for another 25 years.

When it becomes apparent, however, we can no longer keep up conventional oil production, the cry will change to "produce substitutes." Billions, and perhaps trillions of dollars will be allocated to producing synthetic liquid fuels. If this can come from biomass it might make some sense, but if we ravage Alberta and our coal reserves to power our SUVs for a few decades longer, it does not.

This indeed my turn out to be mankind's key decision for the first half of the 21st century. Do we power down gracefully to a greatly reduced liquid fuel world; or do we thrash around for a decade or two trying to maintain life as we have known it?

Friday, November 18, 2005

World at tipping point; oil peak arrives

Online Journal

Larry Chin
November 17, 2005

The American empire is an energy junkie in its death throes, punching for new veins and final fixes, knowing that the supplies of its drug of choice -- cheap oil -- are virtually depleted.

According to geologist Kenneth Deffeyes, author of Beyond Oil: The View from Beyond Hubbert’s Peak, this long-anticipated world oil peak is now -- Thanksgiving 2005. The holocaust of imperial thrashing -- epitomized by the Bush administration’s Peak Oil-fueled criminal atrocities -- promises to intensify, along with the denial and cover-up.

Confirmation of Peak Oil crisis is everywhere. Oil supplies may be lower than OPEC wants to admit. The second largest oil field in the world, situated in Kuwait, is running dry. The US trade deficit just hit another all-time high.

Yet in the US, we have witnessed the spectacle of rising stocks, in response to temporary and artificially manipulated low gas prices created only by the tapping (and possible depletion) of strategic reserves.
As Mike Ruppert and the From The Wilderness team point out, in the course of their continuous tracking of Peak Oil-related news: “Even today the US media glibly lies and misleads about falling oil prices while failing to tell the American people that most of its domestic production is still shut in or that the 'falling' prices are simply a result of tapping the strategic reserves of this and other IEA countries. Both of those 'artificial' market influences will end shortly . . ."

The Gulf Coast’s energy infrastructure is not even close to repaired, and some damage is permanent. The official data on the impact from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita flies in the face of denials. How is it possible for energy prices to fall if supplies are depleted and the infrastructure to bring supplies to market remains crippled?

Outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and his likely successor, White House advisor Ben Bernanke, continue to tap-dance, admitting energy and severe trade deficit problems, and the “souring” of critical foreign investment in the US, but insist on repeating old mantras about eternal US economic and market resiliency.
How long before the trick bag of artificial market manipulations and transparent lies comes up as empty as a Caspian Basin dry hole? How long before the Plunge Protection Team fails? How much of the strategic reserves have been wasted, in order to create one last short-term illusion of cheap energy bounty?

Meanwhile, piece by piece, the White House cover-up of its 9/11-Peak Oil war falls apart. After years of intensive White House stonewalling, the Washington Post revealed documents proving that Dick Cheney's 2001 energy task force involved secret meetings with major oil company executives (Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Conoco and Shell Oil). This, along with other related scandals (falsified Iraq war intelligence, the Cheney-Libby-Rove-Plame case, 9/11, etc.) thoroughly vindicate those who have accurately chronicled it all.

When one finds Peak Oil suddenly the subject of major mainstream news (major magazine stories, daily headlines, books, and even television) and oil giants such as Chevron Texaco putting out expensive advertising and public relations about a worldwide energy shortage and Peak (without ever using the actual phrase), and urging conservation, the writing on the wall is beyond obvious. When California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (whose ties to Big Energy and Enron are well documented) is tapped for a tour of China to sell conservation, it speaks volumes. If this is the voice of Big Oil, the era of oil is over.

In a presentation for a Peak Oil-related conference, Mike Ruppert laid out in exhausting detail how the world’s key decision makers have been aware of and planning for the Peak Oil crisis as far back as the 1970s, if not even decades earlier. Broadly, these measures include, according to Ruppert:

1. Rationing
2. More coal and nuclear
3. Suspended environmental and drilling restrictions
4. Protection of critical infrastructure
5. Strengthening and reinforcing military operations -- the suspension of Posse Comitatus
6. Suspension and relaxation of labor and minimum wage laws
7. Changing and tightening the bankruptcy laws, allowing fewer distressed consumers to discharge debts
8. Allowing and facilitating population reduction through famine and disease
9. Strengthening and giving more power to FEMA
10.Destroying demand through economic collapse and allocating scarce resources -- by force if necessary -- to protect the interests of the wealthiest communities and interests in the country

This destructive paradigm provides the explanation for all that has transpired: the protection of what is left for elites, and the “destruction of demand." The Bush faction. Enron. The attacks of 9/11 and the “war on terrorism." The targeting of Muslim and other ethnic populations. Afghanistan-Iraq. The USA PATRIOT Act. The Bush administration’s “let them die” response to Hurricane Katrina. Cold war with China. Bird flu and other pandemics. The looting of Social Security. War against the sick and elderly. The Medicare drug disaster. Etc.
An example of the official response in action is found in the unprecedented and disastrous energy bill quietly and enthusiastically passed by Congress in August 2005. This recipe for disaster is full of subsidies to Big Energy, offering nothing for ordinary people.

Here is yet another. Even though California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Republican Party suffered a largely humiliating election defeat in which virtually all Republican-backed state measures were rejected by voters, Proposition 80, designed to re-regulate California energy (and stop Enron-type manipulations), lost. The elites who control the electronic votes (who likely assisted his previous victory) may permit political faction change, but they will not relinquish the Peak Oil energy agenda.

What next? Whether one chooses to accept the Deffeyes Thanksgiving 2005 forecast, or a more conservative one that places Peak a few more years down the road, the crisis is now.

As pointed out by Tom Whipple of the Falls Church News: “It is nearly impossible to convince people and their elected representatives something very bad is about to happen until it actually does . . . Peak oil is yet another example of denial with potentially much more serious consequences. Nearly every unbiased observer who has looked seriously at the issue comes to the conclusion world oil production will peak within 10 years -- tops.

“There is no shortage of potential events that will lead to higher prices in the next few years. The Gulf of Mexico is not going to cool down any time soon, so we can expect each year the hurricane season will produce a succession of monster storms, some of which will once again tear up oil facilities. The overall political situation in the Middle East is deteriorating. Every month brings us closer to an event that will interrupt a significant share of production . . . Once the flow from Iran, Saudi Arabia or Venezuela is interrupted, the resulting shortages and prices will lead to the rapid formation of a consensus from the White House to the courthouse . . ."It is this “consensus” -- the destruction that is sure to ensue -- that all people of the world must prepare for. The time for denial is over. The jig is up.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Prepare for Peak Oil Now

Team Members

I'm looking for dedicated team members interested in posting on this blog. Email me at peakoil20@ yahoo-dot-com.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Next Frontiers

Scroll down to the next frontiers seciton- there is a good amount of articles on energy issues, especially alternative energy.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

2008 Elections

What political changes will elections in 2008 bring? Right now, it seems a Democrat would have the advantage...but what do you think? How much of a role will energy concerns play in who is elected? Email me at peakoil20@yahoo-dot-com.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

JOHN CRISP: Oil sands no magic bullet

Modesto Bee

By John Crisp
November 10, 2005

(SH) - Michael Fumento, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service, recently offered an optimistic picture of our petroleum supply, based primarily on the potential for Canadian oil sands to produce bitumen, a "tar-like goo" that can be refined into gasoline and other petroleum products.

The Canadian deposits are enormous - more than a trillion barrels. Fumento reassures us that the petroleum doomsayers are wrong: At current rates of use, the oil sands could supply us with energy for another 500 years.

This bright prospect - an enormous reserve of non-OPEC petroleum just across a friendly border - sounds almost too good to be true. Unfortunately, it probably is.

Petroleum extraction from oil sands is expensive, energy intensive and dirty. Deposits often lie beneath a hundred feet or more of earth, and about two tons of sand has to be mined to produce a barrel of oil. The result of the mining process isn't the light sweet crude that comes from Saudi Arabia; it's an extra-heavy oil that requires considerable further processing to yield gasoline and other products. Finally, each barrel of oil leaves behind about 2.5 barrels of murky wastewater, which is retained in vast contaminated ponds near the production site.

In short, Fumento presents an overly simplified and optimistic perspective on the future of petroleum. A more realistic view can be found in "The End of Oil" by Paul Roberts, who begins with the obvious fact that someday we'll run out of petroleum. Like Fumento, Roberts believes that the world's petroleum reserves could last a long time. However, he contends that the real petroleum crisis will occur, not when we finally pump and burn the last barrel of oil, but at the point when worldwide production begins to decline.

The science of the prediction of oil production owes a lot to geologist M. King Hubbert, who said in 1956 that production in the United States would begin to decline in 1970; he was right. Using his principles, others have predicted the peak of worldwide production, as well: The optimists say that it will peak in 25 to 30 years; the pessimists say that it's peaking right now or has already started downhill.

What will happen when worldwide production peaks? Roberts paints a chaotic picture of world powers, heavily invested in an oil infrastructure, in competition for the last of the "easy oil," the cheap, accessible crude found mostly in the Middle East. Since most of the military conflicts of the 20th century developed out of competition for oil (WWII is the best example), it's not hard to imagine a series of "oil wars" fought over declining production. In fact, history may look back on our current war in Iraq as the first of the post-peak oil wars. In spite of our rhetoric about bringing democracy to Iraq, it's clear that we wouldn't be very interested in that part of the world if it didn't reside atop some of the world's best petroleum reserves.

Of course, the worst prospect of all may be that Fumento is right. More efficient methods of petroleum extraction could extend the hydrocarbon age. But if the global warming alarmists are half right, could the earth withstand 500 more years of the greenhouse gas assault on its atmosphere?

At best, Fumento's perspective encourages an unfortunate sense of complacency that distracts us from preparing for the post-hydrocarbon age with efficiency, conservation, and the development of alternative sources of energy like wind, solar, and hydrogen. Counting on the development of safe and abundant petroleum resources nearby is whistling past the graveyard and wearing rose-colored glasses at the same time.

John Crisp is a professor in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. Email is

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Optimism for a Post-Peak Oil Society

Orion Magazine

By Bill McKibben
November 8, 2005

Can you feel the mood shifting? I can. A year of spiking speculation about peak oil and the death of suburbia has rattled lots of Americans. Plenty of people suddenly feel that real, civilization-shaking change might be around the next corner. And plenty of them also feel frozen in the headlights, unsure what, if anything, to do about it. Other than wait.

It reminds me a little of the very early days in the fight over global warming. Appalled at the forecasts of global destruction, some of us demanded immediate and strong action--high taxes on carbon emissions, for instance, and never mind the pain. Others -- more moderate or more politically realistic -- advocated a suite of what they called "no regrets" policies. They suggested, say, gradual rises in gas mileage, higher efficiency standards for appliances. Even if climate change proved to be overblown hooey, they pointed out, such rational and easy measures would still save us money, reduce conventional pollution, and so on. These steps were like taking out a modest amount of insurance; whatever happened we'd have no regrets about having adopted them.
In actual fact, of course, we took neither the urgent nor the more relaxed steps. Instead we bought Ford Explorers. Now everything that was frozen is melting and soon we will have ... regrets.

Who knows if we're actually going to see oil production peak sometime soon? Not me. I've read persuasive arguments that we will from writers like Michael Klare and James Howard Kunstler and Paul Roberts. I've also read confident counterarguments from people who've been right in the past, like Daniel Yergin of Cambridge Energy Research Associates. Oil depletion is not a straightforward physical law, like the fact that the molecular structure of carbon dioxide traps heat that would otherwise radiate back out to space. Instead it's a detective story that turns on questions like, are the Saudis lying about how fast oil is being depleted in their giant field at Ghawar? My suspicion had always been that we'd run out of sinks before sources -- that is, run out of atmosphere before oil wells -- but it's beginning to look like the race will be tight.

In any event, the real question is what to do in the face of uncertainty. In policy terms, the answer is easy, since cushioning the end of oil would require precisely the same steps as slowing down climate change: raising gas mileage, converting to hybrid cars, building trains, imposing carbon taxes, giving tax breaks for insulation.
But in personal terms? That's how peak oil affects the imagination, after all. You can't hear about it without starting to wonder, what's my life going to be like? Authors have provided helpful guesses about which regions of the country to move to (New England good, suburban Atlanta bad) or what items to install on your homestead. The trouble with such advice, however, is that it's altogether too personal, too private. If the nightmare of a globally warmed world is, say, a storm-raked, mosquito-ridden, sea-besieged city on a tropical shore, then the nightmare of a post-oil world is a lone family holed up on its new farm using its cache of firearms to guard its stockpile of food. You can imagine it coming to that -- Mad Max meets American Gothic. It's hard to underestimate the degree of rage that might accompany the end of the cheap-fuel culture in a country as entitled as ours. But the loner option is full of unhappiness, no matter what. At best it offers survival.

The no-regrets options are different, and seductive. They all involve communities learning to fend more powerfully for themselves -- communities ratcheting down their dependence on the overstretched and oil-dependent lines of supply that mark a globalized economy, and ratcheting up the semiforgotten, close-to-home economies that might prove more stable in an energy-starved world. Some of this work is already underway, but it will be given a new urgency if the price of oil just keeps on leaping.

Consider, for instance, the fine small city of Burlington, in Vermont. It has its own in-town farming district, the Intervale -- land that once served as the town dump and now has about five hundred acres of vegetables and berries and grains, selling mostly to people who appreciate freshness, who think organically, who want to support their neighbors. The Intervale already provides eight percent of the fresh produce that the town's residents consume, and eight percent is not insignificant. But it still leaves 92 percent arriving by truck, boat, and plane from around the planet -- apples from China, say, even though Burlington lies in the Champlain Valley, one of the planet's finest apple-growing belts. In a cheap-fuel economy you can take advantage of cheap Chinese labor and sell Chinese apples for a cheap forty cents. Say that the price of oil rises to the point where that apple costs fifty cents, and sixty, and seventy -- each increase should make it easier to extend the Intervale farms over a few hundred more acres. Oil at a hundred dollars a barrel means fewer bananas and more local apples and blueberries.

But that process needn't wait until shortage requires it -- until we're scrambling. With a little lead time, we can put in place the no-regrets kinds of policies that make sense for a less spendthrift society. Consider, for instance, Burlington Bread. That's the local currency that a few people developed in Burlington six or seven years ago -- one of several thousand such currencies that have sprung up around the world. But like most of the American experiments, Burlington Bread has never broken out of the backrub and vegan-restaurant ghetto; it's basically a medium of exchange between earnest masseuses. Now, though, locals led by University of Vermont economics professor Bob Costanza are trying to make something more of it.

Costanza, one of the founders of ecological economics, has proposed having the city issue Bread. If they could use the currency to pay some municipal expenses, and in turn accept it for taxes and fees, then it would stand a chance of gaining a real foothold. In time, say Costanza's colleagues, 20 percent of Burlington's economy might use Bread instead of greenbacks -- which, because it would give people money that only had value in the metro area, would automatically make local goods more competitive. Move that produce number from eight percent to, say, 28 percent. Suddenly the town is a lot better situated for the post-oil world. And suddenly the town is not just a collection of unrelated individuals living in a vast planetary economy, but a real community in a real place filled with people who depend on one another in real ways.

Right now organizers are trying to persuade some of the city's many vendors to accept Bread in payment for their services -- that's the test the city's mayor, Peter Clavelle, will use to decide if the project goes ahead or not. "It's a classic chicken-and-egg problem," says Ed Antczak of the city's Community and Economic Development Office. "The onus is on the local-currency people to prove over the next 12 months that there are vendors willing to take it from the city. It's like, 'Bring me the broomstick of the Witch of the West.' Because otherwise it's a little out there for the city to get involved."

Out there, sure. But in a world where business as usual seems less and less likely, that may be the only place beyond regret.

Bill McKibben is the author of "The End of Nature" and "Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age."

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Runninig on empty

The Guardian

By Jeremy Leggett
November 8, 2005

History shows that James Schlesinger, a former director of the CIA, is not a man to mess with. As secretary of defence during the first oil shock in 1973, he threatened to invade the Arabian peninsula if the Saudis didn't reopen the oil pumps they had shut down in ire over the October war, thus precipitating the crisis.

In an interesting contrast with the US's current professed intentions in Iraq, Mr Schlesinger was on record then as saying: "Militarily we could have seized one of the Arab states. And the plan did indeed scare and anger them. No, it wasn't just bravado. It was clearly intended as a warning. I think the Arabs were quite worried about it after 73".

So it was with some surprise that participants in last week's oil summit in Rimini, Italy, heard Mr Schlesinger give a speech warning of a grave threat to the world economy from a coming peak in oil production.

Addressing a select audience that included oil ministers and senior officials from the oil cartel Opec, the energy watchdog International Energy Agency, and the UN, plus advocates of a premature oil peak such as the former British cabinet minister Michael Meacher, Mr Schlesinger offered a graphic analogy.

The peak-oil threat and the response to it are reminiscent, he said, of the rumbles under Vesuvius and the reaction to them of its hapless residents. "The peak or plateau is coming," he said.

He's right. We don't know exactly when, but the probability is sooner rather than later. When it comes to oilfield discoveries these days, oil companies are finding small deposits, in contrast with the massive oilfields of old. In fact, 80% of global production today still come from the oilfields discovered before 1970, and these are being rapidly pumped towards exhaustion.

Yet demand is soaring. "Political systems do not deal easily with long term threats, even if they have a probability of 100%," Schlesinger warned.

His message was clear: economic horror will descend on the world if we do not plan ahead, and the time to start is now. We are asleep at the wheel, like the citizens of Pompeii and Herculaneum were, looking up at their volcano and thinking that its dormant state would be destiny. They ignored the rumbles, and ended up buried under ten metres of ash.

Mr Schlesinger threw a barb at the detractors he knew would follow him at the podium. Most people, and all governments, are in denial, he intimated. "Every time someone says the peak is far off, there is an audible sigh of relief."

He cited Daniel Yergin, the chairman of the influential oil industry consultancy Cambridge Energy Research Associates. "When Daniel Yergin said the peak wouldn't be until 2020 in a recent report, it was greeted with elation," Mr Schlesinger said.

This is what people in denial want to hear, Mr Schlesinger implied, and people like Mr Yergin are happy to say it. Somewhat appropriately, Mr Yergin gave the last speech in the main plenary. "I don't see why human genius can't meet the challenge," Mr Yergin said. He recited a long litany of the oil industry's technical prowess, and the scope for all the kit and fine minds to find new oilfields in deep water, enhance recovery from existing oilfields, and the like.

Moreover, he said, his company had access to a proprietary database run by the US-based IHS Energy group that backs the case for optimism.

Ordinary mortals can buy access to that database for a million dollars or more. Or they can talk to the geologist who worked on it in its early years, Colin Campbell, for free. Working on the early version of the database, and keeping his own version of it updated since, Mr Campbell has become the lead architect of peak-oil whistleblowing in and around the oil industry.

Mr Campbell was at the Rimini event, and had with him the draft of a protocol written in the language governments would need if they wanted to defuse the peak-oil crisis. Advocating the simple and achievable expedient of demand management at the same rate as global depletion, it was to be called the Rimini protocol.
Mr Campbell's understanding, along with fellow advocates like Mr Meacher, was that the launch of the protocol was to be a main feature of the summit. Indeed, the organisers told him that Mikhail Gorbachev was due to launch the protocol in a plenary speech.

Mr Meacher had earlier appealed publicly for the organisers to give the protocol maximum publicity, saying that the peak-oil crisis would unleash an economic apocalypse if governments didn't act.

It was not to be. Mr Gorbechev didn't show up and Mr Campbell was not allocated a slot to speak in the main plenary. Somewhere, somehow, amid all the machinations involved in persuading the oil industry's glitterati to turn up at the event, the Rimini protocol had become sidelined.

The summit was entitled "The Spirit of the Empire," and that spirit - exemplified by Daniel Yergin's bravura performance - expressed itself in accordance with current global form. The rumblings below the Vesuvius of the hydrocarbon age could be heard loud and clear in Rimini. And the citizens of Pompeii elected to dream on.

· Jeremy Leggett's book on peak oil, Half Gone: Oil, Gas, Hot Air and the Global Energy Crisis, is published this week by Portobello Books.,11319,1636920,00.html

Running on empty?

Denver Post

By Steve Raabe
November 8, 2005

Theories abound on when oil production will reach a peak. Some analysts say this year; others say untapped sources will fuel supplies for years.

The question of when world oil production will peak has energy analysts engaged in a weighty debate with major implications for consumers.

On one extreme are predictions that world oil production will peak by the end of this year.

The other extreme argues that advancements in geology and technology will provide plentiful oil until alternative energy is widely developed.

The issue takes center stage in Colorado this week at the Denver World Oil Conference sponsored by the Association for the Study of Peak Oil-USA.

"People should be listening to the peak oil debate because it will have a profound impact on our economy," said conference organizer and energy analyst Steve Andrews. "Our transportation, food and manufacturing all revolve around plentiful, cheap oil."

The conference, which runs Thursday and Friday, primarily will feature speakers who embrace the concept of peak production. Oil production will hit a peak, some of them warn, then leave a growing world economy thirsting for a declining resource.

Yet even within that constituency are projections that vary from a peak in the next couple of years to one that is still several decades away.
Energy optimists maintain, however, that the world still has large supplies of known oil, plus vast fields of undiscovered petroleum that can be exploited with new exploration and recovery technologies.

"We have at least 29 years worth of oil even if we never find another drop, yet we're finding new oil every day," said Craig R. Smith, co-author of a new book titled "Black Gold Stranglehold: The Myth of Scarcity and the Politics of Oil."

The amount of known but unproduced global deposits of oil increased by 300 billion barrels from 1980 to 2002, according to a survey by British Petroleum.

Relatively new discoveries of oil sands in Canada and heavy crude oil in Venezuela are harder to refine than conventional light crude but offer major new resources, said David Morehouse, senior petroleum geologist at the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Huge oil shale deposits in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah remain untapped but contain an estimated 800 billion barrels of oil, three times the size of Saudi Arabia's reserves.

Unconventional oil sources, proponents say, offer many decades of supply if technology and oil prices reach levels high enough to support production.

But new discoveries and better extraction technologies will only slow an inevitable production decline, said Thomas Petrie, an oil analyst and head of Denver-based investment banking firm Petrie Parkman & Co.

"It is likely that world oil production will peak by 2010; I would be very surprised if it doesn't happen by 2015," Petrie said. "Using better technology is a mitigator, not a solution, to eventual oil production declines."

The Denver conference's keynote presentation is scheduled to be given by Matthew Simmons, a Houston-based energy expert who has been one of the nation's leading voices on peak oil and subsequent production declines.

Simmons predicts an oil production peak between 2007 and 2009, largely because he thinks Saudi Arabian reserves are being depleted much faster than the Saudi government will admit.

Monday, November 07, 2005

How we can learn to stop worrying and love high oil prices


November 6, 2005

A shocking realization that habits need to change

You felt it at the gasoline pumps. Now you'll feel it when that smelly fuel truck pulls up to fill your home heating oil tank. Get used to the pain in your pocketbook. Oil prices, which skyrocketed from $18 to nearly $65 a barrel in four years, are not likely to get much lower in the long run. But, in time, you may learn to love the results of the pain, however paradoxical that seems.

If there is a glimmer of light in this petroleum gloom, it's the potential for high oil prices to spur individual and collective initiatives to reduce the nation's immense thirst for oil. Households, the energy industry and government all can contribute in separate efforts to cut back on consumption, tap new energy sources, reconsider alternative fuels and generate new technologies for more efficient power use.

The guzzler in the mirror

In the process, Americans must stop looking for an easy way out by pinning the blame for high prices on the usual suspects - greedy companies and oil sheiks - and look inward instead, abandon cherished myths and prepare to make hard choices. The questions in everyone's mind are obvious, but the answers are not, and often they will make us uncomfortable because none of them provide easy, simple solutions. Still, we must face up to them if we are to conquer our addiction to oil.

Why are prices so high? It's Economics 101. Oil is a freely traded commodity, subject to the law of supply and demand. The global market, not the oil industry, sets the price. In recent years, demand has steadily outstripped supply. For that, blame the mushrooming industrial growth of China and, to a lesser extent, India. China is sucking up as much oil as it can get, and will soon use more than the United States, the world's largest consumer today.

Yes, oil company profits are obscene. But they are not the result of a dark conspiracy in an industry cabal to impoverish U.S. drivers and homeowners. With literally thousands of oil traders negotiating prices all over the world and demand hotter than a habanero chili pepper, oil companies are raking it in, and the bigger the firm, the more lucrative the take. Blame the Chinese for wanting to drive more cars. Or blame yourself if you bought a big SUV with an 11-miles per gallon thirst and moved into a McMansion with 15 rooms to heat. Or invest in oil stocks.

After the storms

The summer price spike in the United States was due as much to the hurricane disasters in the Gulf of Mexico as to global demand. The storms knocked out oil platforms pumping offshore crude, and, more important, put out of commission many refineries along the Louisiana and Texas coasts, which now are back in business. And, by the way, gasoline prices adjusted for inflation are actually lower today than in the early 1980s, when they peaked at $3.15 a gallon, in today's dollars.

But shouldn't the government do something about prices? No. Price controls and taxes on windfall profits were tried in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They were attractive, simplistic political solutions. And they both failed miserably. Price controls led to shortages and gas lines. Windfall profit taxes were just passed on to consumers, lowering the prices not a bit, and were dropped after six months.

A failure of leadership

The federal government, however, can and should take a few crucial actions. Congress should raise fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks. Energy experts say that just a 10 percent gain in fuel efficiency would cut two million barrels a day in the nation's consumption by 2025. Tax incentives for businesses to purchase gas-guzzling trucks should be replaced with subsidies for fuel-efficient or hybrid vehicles. Congress should push for more refineries - not one has been built in the United States since the mid-1970s, leading to higher prices.

Far more important, this or the next administration must come up with a more imaginative and creative national energy policy that would not only encourage energy conservation and diversify supply, but would also jump-start a major national initiative to cut our dependence on foreign oil. The federal government's inability to enact a broad energy policy to create alternative energy sources at least three decades ago has been justifiably called the biggest single U.S. policy failure of the past half-century. It has made the United States vulnerable to oil shocks from abroad.

Are we running out of oil? Some experts say that the world has reached "peak oil production" from known sources. That means that from now on, production will gradually slide down the slope toward the last drops. Others, however, challenge that theory and say that new technologies - and, more important, higher prices - are making it possible to suck oil out of unconventional venues. Extracting oil from oil sands was once thought to be prohibitively costly. But today, oil from Canadian sands sells for $20 a barrel. Still, oil is a finite commodity and even new sources would only prolong the downward slide.

What about "green" energy? Sure, wind and solar power are the darlings of the environmentally aware. But they provide "boutique" supplemental solutions where the nation needs "big-box" energy sources. We could line the Atlantic coast with windmills and still not make much of a dent in electricity demand. Solar and wind power are unreliable sources. If the nation were to switch en mass to hybrid cars, the cut in oil consumption would be dramatic. But those vehicles are not in large supply and are relatively expensive. Biofuels (diesel-like liquids from corn or garbage) are promising, but would require a mass switch to diesel car engines and a new distribution infrastructure.

Should we revisit (gulp) nuclear power? It may be necessary. Europe and Japan, where oil products are more expensive, produce most of their electricity from nuclear power plants. The United States, whose population is averse to nuclear power, produces less than 20 percent of its electricity from it. Modern nuclear designs have few safety problems, but the disposal of spent fuel is a political challenge.

What about me? What can I do? Quite a lot. Trade in that big SUV for a smaller one. Move closer to your job. Don't buy a bigger house than you need. Use public transport if you can. Individually, all that seems like small potatoes. Collectively, it's huge. Unlike Europe, the United States has been trapped in a pattern of suburban development tied to the highways since the Eisenhower era - and supported by tax incentives and cheap fuel. Long Island is the quintessential example of this. And it will be hard to reverse course. But we must stop fooling ourselves. High oil prices may well be the shock we need to change course.,0,1788047.story?coll=ny-opinion-print

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Slippery Slope

Southwest Journal

By Michael Metzger
November 4, 2005

Southwest ‘Peak oil' activists have long insisted that Minneapolis plan for an age of scarce petroleum; amid recent price hikes, the rest of us might finally pay attention

At one time in America, it was indeed possible to unexpectedly strike it rich in oil. The stuff literally poured out of the ground in Pennsylvania - where the first oil strike occurred - and in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and elsewhere. It seemed as if the supply would never end.

But in the 1950s, when gasoline sold for less than 50 cents a gallon, a Shell Oil geologist named M. King Hubbert was working on a theory that would undo forever the notion of infinite oil.

In 1956, Hubbert told a hostile audience at a meeting of the American Petroleum Institute that United States oil production would peak in 1970. Fourteen years later, he was proven to be right, as production of American oil hit a high in 1970 and began a slow descent that continues today. The bell curve that describes the ascent, peak and decline of oil production became known as “Hubbert's peak” - better known today as “peak oil.”

The concern these days isn't about American oil production - the oil industry long ago acknowledged that Hubbert was right about U.S. crude production - but whether Hubbert's peak theory can be applied to the planet as a whole.

In Southwest, peak oil-theory advocates meet every month at the vegan restaurant Ecopolitan, 2409 Lyndale Ave. S., to talk about the coming end of the age of oil. Each of these handful of people is convinced that oil production worldwide has peaked, or soon will, and that the planet is about to be thrust into a difficult post-peak era involving economic crises caused by dramatically higher oil prices, resulting in drastic changes to the American dream and way of life.

At one time, they might have been dismissed with a laugh as Chicken Littles with too much time on their hands. But many of their ideas are in the mainstream, as Americans pump $3 gasoline into post-chic SUVs and speculate about our government's motives for attacking and occupying oil-rich Iraq. Suddenly, it's not quite as funny or far-fetched to think of worldwide oil production peaking and declining.

Kevin Chavis of Whittier has a bigger stake than most in peak oil.

The 23-year-old was understandably reluctant to spend a lot of time discussing peak oil theory when he was contacted for this article. A sergeant in the Minnesota National Guard, he was headed back to his communications post north of Baghdad the next morning. But he took a few minutes away from the little time he had left to spend with his girlfriend to talk about the opportunities he says peak oil will present when it arrives.

“I see the opportunity to transition to a different way of life,” he said. “Simpler, more localized, probably more cooperation. That's the only way things are going to work out, is if everyone works together instead of competing for resources.”

He thinks peak oil hasn't arrived yet - it's still a decade or so away, he says - but that when it does hit, oil prices will rise beyond the reach of a lot of Americans.

“As prices slowly increase, our lives have to change. Some people will embrace an alternative.”
Like many peak oil advocates, Chavis welcomes the changes he sees coming.

“I stopped driving after I learned about peak oil. I'd already been using the bus and everything, just as a way of saving money. And I thought about it, I could not own a car and put the extra money toward my 401K or for savings and so forth. And at the same time, not increase my CO2 levels, and save gasoline for others for the future, instead of us,” he said. “I thought it's better to conserve [oil] and change my lifestyle while I can. And so I did.”

Pedaling a theory

Gary Hoover of Lynnhurst is a peak oil advocate you might have seen pedaling around Southwest on one of his colorful, peace-sign-decorated tricycles.

Hoover said that it's not easy to say if the world has achieved peak oil yet. “We will only know afterwards,” he said.

That's because to observe the peak of production, you have to be able to look back at when production reached a high, plateaued and then began its decline.

Said Hoover, “Peak oil is hard for many people to accept because it challenges the rather naïve assumption that is fitting for the robber barons of the 19th century. That is, the earth is an infinite source of free resources and is also an infinite sink for toxic waste.”

Peak oil is “going to change our urban landscape and change the way we live dramatically. I'm not sure people are ready to hear that yet.”

None of the Southwest peak oil advocates at the Ecopolitan is an expert in oil production, but they all spend inordinate amounts of time reading books on the subject, as well as scouring the many Web sites devoted to the topic for any new bits of information confirming their suspicions that the age of oil is coming to an end.

Robert Holt, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Minnesota, dismisses peak oil theory and refers derisively to Hubbert's peak as “Hubbert's pimple.”

“It's irrelevant,” the Kenwood resident said of the theory. “If we have an oil shortage, it's not going to be because we're running out of oil, it's going to be because of political turmoil in [the Middle East], where all the oil is.”

He said that it's true oil production will eventually peak and then decline (his estimate is that it will take place in 30 to 40 years), but by then we'll have developed economically viable alternatives such as biodiesel, nuclear power and better coal-burning technology to replace much of the oil used today.

Holt said that society has shifted from one crucial technology to another in the past and will do so again.

“There was a time when you made all of your iron out of charcoal and pretty soon and all the trees were gone, by golly, and people said you're going to run out of iron because you have no charcoal. And they figured out a way to make coal work,” he said.

Hallelujah chorus

Don Portwood, pastor of CARAG's Lyndale United Church of Christ, 810 W. 31st St., is a recent addition to the peak oil meet-ups. He recently delivered a sermon to his congregation on peak oil titled “$2.69 a gallon and rising. Hallelujah?”

“It's scary stuff. I was trying to make them [in the congregation] aware of it,” Portwood said. “Make them aware that they're probably not going to read about it in the newspaper or see it on TV.”

Portwood said he quoted Woody Allen in the sermon: “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other to total extinction,” Allen said. “Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

“I said I didn't feel as bad as Woody Allen,” Portwood recalled with a laugh.

He said he talked about putting faith over fear. “Faith over fear means not hearing about peak oil issues and hearing that there may be an economic collapse and going, ‘Oh, hell, there's nothing I can do about that.' This is a time for us to trust God and then work on the issue rather than burying our heads in the sand.”

He said that right now, he's trying to help raise awareness of the issue “so that there will be a tipping point that will lead the government to start joining us in trying to find a solution rather than being part of the problem.”

He said he hasn't urged his congregation to take any specific steps to stave off peak oil, but he did urge them to look “at our unsustainable lifestyle.”

One person who doesn't need persuading by Portwood is his 26-year-old son, Ben Portwood. Ben is moving to Switzerland later this year to be with his Swiss girlfriend and to get out of a country he sees heading toward economic collapse as post-peak oil becomes economically unviable.

“If there's anywhere you want to be when peak oil happens, it's not going to be in any city or any suburb or even in the United States of America,” he said.

“It seems like it's not going to be a pretty place to be. I'd rather be in a society where everyone gets along a little better and where the land is potentially able to support the population.”

Said Hoover, “Peak oil will either be a blessing or a curse. We are either going to grow up and look at this as an opportunity to learn how we really relate to the Earth, or we're going to decide that we're entitled to continue this pretense that we can just draw what we want and dump what we want. If we decide to continue the pretense, we're going to become more violent. It's going to require more violence [abroad] and at home to keep people in line.”

He said he thinks the invasion and occupation of Iraq is part of an increasingly bloody picture of the present and future.

“I think oil is the primary reason for us being in Iraq. Oil is the prize.”

According to the Department of Energy, the United States gulps about 21 million barrels of oil a day. Of this, 58 percent is imported. Proven oil reserves in this country have dropped 17 percent since 1990, so our imports figure to grow faster in coming years.

Chavis, who joined the Minnesota National Guard back in 2000, isn't sure that the United States invaded Iraq mainly to secure a supply of oil.

“I think that if anything were to happen in the Middle East, though, we are in Iraq and we can actively pursue any interests in the Middle East through our bases in Iraq. It's more of a long-term thing than a short-term thing.”

The future

Like Chavis, Cindy Gray of Kenwood sees the coming of peak oil as an opportunity to create a society in which people are more cooperative and less competitive than they are today.

Still, she's hedging her bets. She doesn't envision an immediate future filled with smiling, helpful neighbors bartering vegetables and solar power over their back fences. Things might well get ugly, she said, if our oil-fueled economy takes a serious turn for the worse.

“I sold my townhome last summer because of my feelings about what I think is going to happen. I don't want to be tied down to a mortgage; I might need to be mobile.”

She said she is tempted to move from Southwest to a planned post-peak sustainable community in Wisconsin, but because she enjoys her life here, she wants to help create a sense of community in the city.

“If I am going to stay here, I need to start looking at what I can do in my community for sure.”
She said she wants to get involved in the formation of an outpost, as described on There, feel-good plans are laid out for outposts in metropolitan areas where people bring “together a range of skills, ideas and resources,” “a focus for debate and the opportunity to consult with the wider community” and provide “the opportunity for local authorities and other organizations to involve and engage the views of local people.”

Hoover, who bikes or rides buses nearly everywhere he goes, wonders where he and his two kids and wife should be when peak oil hits.

“There is not going to be any place is safe or any place that is superior as peak oil progresses,” he said.

It'll be hard for people who move to rural areas to recreate the amenities of urban life such as medical facilities. And it will difficult for people in the city to grow enough food on their small plots of land to become a sustainable community.

“The Minneapolis I envision is one where we basically have an edible landscape where we have gardens in every yard and on every boulevard. We have fruit trees. Neighbors are out in their yards and gardens, raising food and exchanging ideas about the best compost and about how to can food and various things. And people will probably have solar panels on roofs and set their thermostats down to about 50 degrees in the winter, unless they can invent some really cool way of getting heat some other way,” he said.

“I see the positive, too. I have these trikes that I ride, and my vision is that we'll have hundreds or even thousands of those in the next three or four years in Minneapolis.

“And that in itself would be the biggest single contribution to solving the problem of peak oil in our lives.”

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