Tuesday, April 25, 2006

No need to Worry

The Economist had a nice long article explaining why we don't need to worry about peak oil. They made many good points, but the discussion of alternative fuels left one thing out: alternative energy sources. Petroleum in the ground produces net energy gain when you pump it out of the ground, refine it, and burn it. Electricity is a means for transmitting energy from one place to another. There isn't raw electricity waiting in the wild to be harvested and used. (There is raw hydro, geothermal, etc., but the Economist didn't mention those.) They mentioned electricity and steam as alternatives to petroleum in the early days of the automobile. (What did the steam and electric cars use for fuel, anyway?)

The points they did make were relevant: the end of oil has always been 20 or 30 years away—that's more indicative of the fact that it's seldom worth exploring for more reserves when you've already identified enough to fill our needs for the next 20 years. According to many experts, there are enough development projects currently funded (in known reservoirs) to expand output by about 18% over current production capacity. They also pointed out that even if American oil companies are having trouble getting access to new reserves, that doesn't show much, since there are so many other countries developing the ability to pump and refine from new sources. It really is a global market, and the worst that might result from that development is that the American companies would suffer; but the oil would still be available to us as long as we're willing to pay for it.

The writers also explained why even if there was a peak, it wouldn't be a sharp peak, leaving us with plenty of time to find replacements after prices rise. I can explain away the current price rise in gasoline at the pump as a transient effect, but the marginal changes will always look like transient effects: the underlying causes are harder to track and don't look as much like immediate causes. The most important sign of long-term increases in prices would be that long-term oil futures rise. And they haven't been going up. The experts with the most access to info, and the most to gain or lose think that prices 6 months or a year out aren't going to be significantly higher than they are now.

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bxc2739 said...
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Chris Hibbert said...

Extremely long, mostly unrelated comment deleted. You can see it in its entirety at its owner's own blog.