Friday, April 10, 2009

Peak Oil, transit options and community health


The presence of mass transit, whether local or long haul, simply makes towns and cities livable. That is going to become increasingly important, as we're in a time where a recent prophecy is going to come to pass.

I don't speak of any supernatural explanation of world events, but rather petroleum geologist Marion King Hubbert's 1956 pronouncement than U.S. oil production would peak between 1965 and 1970, with "the global peak coming about half a century from now". Hubbert was a tad optimistic [pessimistic, actually] about his predictions; the U.S. peak was in the spring of 1971 and the apparent global peak in May of 2005 might have been eclipsed by production in the winter of 2008.

Even if we did dodge the peak oil bullet for a full three years the fate of the world's five largest supergiant oil fields is certain. Ghawar, Saudi Arabia's four million barrel a day cash cow, is over 90% consumed and seawater forms an ever increasing percentage of the output as the field nears the time when it will "water out".

The nitrogen pressurized field of Cantarell in the Bay of Campeche has declined from its 2.2 million barrel a day peak to perhaps a third of that and the Mexican government will soon begin capping depleted wells. The Kuwaitis have responsibly managed Burgan and information is spotty on China's Da Qing, but these two fields, at million barrels a day each are geological resources rather than fossil fuel cornucopias and their life spans are not infinite. The [X] field of northern Iraq is largely untouched but due to above ground concerns there it may never be exploited. The condition of these five, once responsible 10% of the global total production, are a good proxy for what is happening with the rest.

This peak oil business is going to be as wrenching a change for us as the industrial revolution was for our ancestors three centuries ago. Many careers from the 20th century are going to fall by the wayside. Rising heating costs will make larger homes less desirable and that goes double for the distant, poorly constructed suburbs that sprang up everywhere during the last decade's bubble. . . .

There are a few bright spots out there and engineer, accountant, New Orleans resident, Katrina survivor, and rail electrification activist Alan Drake is the keeper of a happier vision of our future.

The United States has about 180,000 miles of rail and 36,000 of those miles are good candidates for double or triple tracking coupled with rail electrification. If we undertake this technologically simple duplication of systems already in use in Europe we'll cut our oil consumption by 10%, put millions back to work in new, peak oil proof
careers, and amazingly enough our economy ought to grow 25% during the process.

1 comment:

Clifford J. Wirth, Ph.D. said...

Here is what Salem faces.

Global crude oil production peaked in 2008 and oil production is now declining terminally.

Within a year or two, it is likely that oil prices will skyrocket as supply falls below demand. OPEC cuts could exacerbate the gap between supply and demand and drive prices even higher.

Independent studies indicate that global crude oil production will now decline from 74 million barrels per day to 60 million barrels per day by 2015. During the same time, demand will increase. Oil supplies will be even tighter for the U.S. As oil producing nations consume more and more oil domestically they will export less and less. Because demand is high in China, India, the Middle East, and other oil producing nations, once global oil production begins to decline, demand will always be higher than supply. And since the U.S. represents one fourth of global oil demand, whatever oil we conserve will be consumed elsewhere. Thus, conservation in the U.S. will not slow oil depletion rates significantly.

Alternatives will not even begin to fill the gap. There is no plan nor capital for a so-called electric economy. And most alternatives yield electric power, but we need liquid fuels for tractors/combines, 18 wheel trucks, trains, ships, and mining equipment. The independent scientists of the Energy Watch Group conclude in a 2007 report titled: “Peak Oil Could Trigger Meltdown of Society:”

"By 2020, and even more by 2030, global oil supply will be dramatically lower. This will create a supply gap which can hardly be closed by growing contributions from other fossil, nuclear or alternative energy sources in this time frame."

With increasing costs for gasoline and diesel, along with declining taxes and declining gasoline tax revenues, states and local governments will eventually have to cut staff and curtail highway maintenance. Eventually, gasoline stations will close, and state and local highway workers won’t be able to get to work. We are facing the collapse of the highways that depend on diesel and gasoline powered trucks for bridge maintenance, culvert cleaning to avoid road washouts, snow plowing, and roadbed and surface repair. When the highways fail, so will the power grid, as highways carry the parts, large transformers, steel for pylons, and high tension cables from great distances. With the highways out, there will be no food coming from far away, and without the power grid virtually nothing modern works, including home heating, pumping of gasoline and diesel, airports, communications, water supply, waste water treatment, and automated building systems.

Documented here: