The Age of Oil;
Human Embryos?

February 20, 2004

One of the lead articles in today's Science News is the ABC article "Dripping Dry?". As Lee Dye says in his review of David Goodstein's new book, "Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil",

"Some economists argue that as the supply declines, the price will rise, making it possible to develop energy sources that are not now available, such as the mineral rich oil sands of Canada, or the shale formations in the western United States.

"Some time soon we'll find out who's right, but Goodstein argues that we don't have any time to spare. It takes decades to develop new energy sources, as the prestigious National Academy of Sciences warned last week in a report on the dream of using hydrogen to fuel our cars. So are we poised to meet this challenge head on?

"Not likely, Goodstein says.

"Most predictions concerning the end of the age of oil are based on estimates of when the supply will run out and the last drop is pulled from the last well. But that's the wrong way to look at it, Goodstein argues.

"Globally, nature left about 2 trillion barrels beneath the ground, and the peak will occur when we reach the halfway point, Goodstein argues. Since we have used close to a trillion barrels, the peak can't be more than a few years away, he says. But are huge new oil fields waiting out there somewhere to be discovered?

"'Better to believe in the tooth fairy,' he writes.

"Most of the planet has been explored extensively, and even if some new fields are found, they won't delay the peak by more than a few years, he says.

"So that leads him to two scenarios.

"Worst case: After Hubbert's peak, all efforts to produce, distribute, and consume alternative fuels fast enough to fill the gap between falling supplies and rising demand fail. Runaway inflation and worldwide depression leave many billions of people with no alternative but to burn coal in vast quantities for warmth, cooking, and primitive industry. The change in the greenhouse effect that results eventually tips Earth's climate into a new state hostile to life. End of story.

"Best case: The worldwide disruptions that follow Hubbert's peak serve as a global wake-up call. A methane-based economy is successful in bridging the gap temporarily while nuclear power plants are built and the infrastructure for other alternative fuels is put in place. The world watches anxiously as each new Hubbert's peak estimate for uranium and oil shale makes front-page news."

"A number of things can be done, but all have some limitations, and all take the one thing we're running out of time.

"There can't be a quick resolution," Goodstein said in the interview. "It's a huge problem."

"He would begin an immediate shift toward a greater reliance on natural gas, since supplies of methane are greater than the remaining oil, and he sees no alternative to building more nuclear power plants. That won't sit well with many Americans.

"'There are difficulties and dangers associated with nuclear power, but there may be no alternative," he writes. Other potential sources of energy, like oil shale, are fraught with environmental problems and they may take more energy to develop than they ultimately produce.'

"Ultimately, Goodstein argues, we must return to the energy source used by our ancestors thousands of years ago.

"'There is a cheap, plentiful supply of energy available for the taking,' he says, and we won't run out of it for billions of years. 'It's called sunlight.'

"Therein lies the greatest hope. New technological breakthroughs could finally harness the sun in ways we haven't even begun to imagine. But it will take a commitment on a global scale that would make the Manhattan Project seem like child's play.

"And here we are in the midst of a presidential election campaign, and no one is even talking about it.

A Year-2000 Prediction That World Oil Production Will Peak in 2010
    In 2000, I reviewed an article that argued that oil production would peak in about 2010. That estimate still seems to be on the front burner  Plenty of oil will be still be left, but oil production, instead of rising will stabilize or begin to fall. Additional oil production facilities could still be built, but one has to look at amortization costs.
    In the meantime, Europe is going into alternative energy sources in a big way, giving Europe a technological lead and a reputation as a source of green-power equipment. From whom should other countries buy their crash-priority green-power generation equipment? From established leaders in the field, such as Philips Eindhoven and Siemens AG! Meanwhile, back in the United States, President Bush and his oil-interest associates are encouraging U. S. citizens to buy SUVs and to use oil like it's going out of style... which it is. Why? Various advantages to the energy conglomerates suggest themselves, but I don't know enough to make suggestions. Meanwhile, the price of gasoline is soaring at the pumps. How much of this is a higher price for crude oil and how much is added profit for the oil companies, I don't know. One of the consequences of this could be price inflation. Temporarily-high oil prices were said to have driven the inflationary spiral of the eighties.
Making Money With This Knowledge
    It may be a bit obscene to talk about making money out of what could possibly be a global meltdown, but what we do will have no impact upon how this looming energy crisis. plays out.
    Energy companies might make out very well as the War on Terror shifts to a War on Energy Shortages. Do you think that the U. S. public is going to be enjoined to make sacrifices in order to finance an unprecedented engineering effort to conserve energy, and to convert to renewable energy sources? I wonder if the neocons' "Don't Worry! Be Happy! Summer Will Never End!" stance could set up the U. S. public for a terribly rude awakening that must occur before this decade is over. (For what little my opinion may be worth, I think there will be many, many terribly rude awakenings waiting for the unsuspecting U. S. public. One of these might be inflation, implausible as it may seem at the moment.  However, I know perilously little about economics, and the prospects for inflation.)
    It would seem to me that with their hybrid vehicles, Honda and Toyota are well-positioned to cash in on a global energy shortage. (See Are U. S. Automakers Headed for Bankruptcy?)
    Companies that manufacture green power equipment, such as wind turbine manufacturers, ought to do well in such a scenario. 
    The companies that are working on low-cost organic photovoltaic technology also ought to prosper (Breakthroughs In Capacity, Power Consumption Set To Revolutionize Photonics). Companies that manufacture fluorescent lighting are probably already doing well, as will other companies that specialize in power conservation.
    Solar farms in Arizona and New Mexico might come into being, buying up desert land. Land in the Sahara Desert might become attractive for solar accumulators. The power satellite concept might be have a serious run. And power conversion and storage equipment might figure heavily in this picture. Fuel cells running off natural gas or used to store solar and wind power might become attractive. The program for turning waste into oil "Anything_into_Oil" might gain momentum.

To Be Continued


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