Friday, January 17, 2014

Think We're Awash in Fossil Fuel Energy? Think Again. Crunch Time May Be Closer Than We Imagine.

The world could hit a global energy crisis possibly as early as 2015 and that's got the Pentagon deeply worried.  The shale oil and gas miracle that, especially in the US, heralded an era of abundant cheap fossil fuel could actually peak by 2018 and then begin a steady decline.

A conference sponsored by a US military official convened experts in Washington DC and London warning that continued dependence on fossil fuels puts the world at risk of an unprecedented energy crunch that could inflame financial crisis and exacerbate dangerous climate change.

The 'Transatlantic Energy Security Dialogue', which took place on 10th December last year, was co-organised by a US Army official, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel L. Davis, operating in a private capacity, in association with former petroleum geologist Jeremy Leggett, chairman of the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Gas.

According to US Army colonel Daniel Davis, a veteran of four tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, and regular contributor to the Armed Forces Journal:
"We put the event together because the prevailing idea that we have a bright future of increasing oil and gas production that can sustain our current way of life indefinitely is based on a selective appraisal of the data. We brought together experts from across the spectrum, and with a wide range of opinions, to have a comprehensive look at all the relevant data. When you only look at certain things, like the very real resurgence of US oil and gas production, the picture looks fine. But when you dig deeper into the data, it becomes clear that this is only part of the picture. And the big picture proves that our current course cannot continue without significant risks."

...Mark C. Lewis, former head of energy research at Deutsche Bank's commodities unit, ..highlighted three interlinked problems facing the global energy system: "very high decline rates" in global production; "soaring" investment requirements "to find new oil"; and since 2005, "falling exports of crude oil globally."

Lewis told participants that the International Energy Agency's (IEA) own "comprehensive" analysis in its World Energy Outlook of the 1,600 fields providing 70% of today's global oil supply, show "an observed decline rate of 6.2%" - double the IEA's stated estimate of future decline rate out to 2035 of about 3%.

The IEA report also shows that despite oil industry investment trebling in real terms since 2000 (an increase of around 200-300%), this has translated into an oil supply increase of just 12%.

...Lewis' presentation was complimented by geoscientist David Hughes, formerly of the Geological Survey of Canada, who cited a wealth of official data demonstrating that shale oil production is likely to peak around 2016-17. Similarly, US shale gas production has sustained a plateau for the last year that is unlikely to retain long-term sustainability due to spectacularly high decline rates, and because the vast majority of production comes from just two or three plays.

The upshot is that continued dependence on fossil fuels is becoming increasingly expensive, with oil prices continuing to rise for the foreseeable future, impinging evermore on global economic growth. At worst, declining global exports point to a risk of an oil crunch that could, in turn, trigger another financial crash.

One signature trait of the Harper government has been its ability to always be asleep at the wheel.  It failed to see the collapse of 2008 barreling down on Canada.  It has chosen to ignore the already serious impacts of climate change hitting our country.  Now we see that it has no national energy policy to insulate the country from a global energy crunch.  Harper doesn't govern, he administers.  He's really just another technocrat in a grey suit. 


Richard said...

I love Nafeez. One of the few journalists that really gets the big picture.

Elliott Taylor said...

I don't have to go very far from home to encounter this attitude.

BCAA is in the midst of launching a car sharing service in Metro Vancouver and I was polled about my preferences regarding billing, accessibility, and what kind of vehicles to make available.

It was abundantly clear from the survey that they are just not considering pure electric vehicles. The survey pushed and pushed plug in hybrids even though Metro Vancouver has a good-sized and growing number of charging stations.

I cannot think of a better occasion to say goodbye to fossil fueled engines than with a made in BC car service. Ironically, BCAA's service will be not-for-profit, with proceeds going in part to building a charging infrastructure here on the Lower Mainland. But they'll do it using ICE-powered vehicles!

The Mound of Sound said...

So, what do you think? Is our government really asleep at the wheel on this? I wish I didn't have this nagging doubt that they somehow realize this is coming but just can't figure out how to respond.

The Mound of Sound said...

That's interesting, Elliott. Out here in the sticks we can only look on in some envy at those advantages of urban life.

Richard said...

There is no doubt in my mind they know it's coming and that they're preparing for it. Just not in the ways we'd wish they'd prepare.

Purple library guy said...

Yeah. I suspect the Con take on that is "If supply is running low, that'll push prices up and the tar sands will be even more lucrative! Ka-ching!"

One major problem for our economies and for combating climate change is that frankly, the most useful advanced sources of renewable energy most directly replace coal and maybe natural gas, not oil.

Not nearly enough electric vehicles or transit, due both to foot-dragging and problems with the energy density of battery power.

Hugh said...

This shows the incredible value of BC Hydro, which is owned by the province and produces about 50,000 GWh per year of 95% renewable hydro power.

The Mound of Sound said...

You know, PLG, if we electrify transporation as much as practical, our need for hydrocarbon fuels could be limited to aircraft and some ships. That volume of fuels could be produced from biomass - surface carbon - instead of having to keep dredging up fossil carbon. The best processes today can extract about 700 kgs. of bio-oil from one tonne of wood cellulose. There's an outfit near Ottawa that has some world-beating technology for producing bio-fuels out of anything organic from olive pits to your dead dog.