Professors argue flattening oil production should trump environment as reason to move to alternative sources

Jan 26, 2012 by Bob Yirka report
A pumpjack in Texas. Image: Wikipedia.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Two university professors, one from the School of Oceanography at the University of Washington in Seattle, the other from Oxford, have published an opinion piece in the journal Nature, where they argue that governments aren’t doing enough to wean modern societies off of oil and onto more sustainable and stable sources, including atomic energy. James Murray, who is also the founding director of the University of Washington's Program on Climate Change and David King, Director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at Oxford as well as senior science adviser to the bank UBS also has served as chief scientific adviser to the British government back in 2000-07; together write that because global oil production hit a cap in 2005, small disruptions in supply have led to large disruptions in economic systems and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

The problem they point out, is not so much that production has hit a cap, but that governments have been far too slow in dealing with such an obvious problem; one that could very well lead to serious economic repercussions and possible collapse if something isn’t done immediately.

All agree, they say, that there will come a time when there won’t be enough oil to meet our needs and if other alternatives aren’t found, we’ll eventually find ourselves having to do without altogether. This is not in dispute. What is up for debate however is whether the world really has hit a cap, which is where production is continually being outpaced by demand.

Some have argued that because the overall amount of oil extracted from the Earth continues to grow, it’s wrong to argue that we’ve hit the cap. Others, such as the two professors in their opinion piece, point out that it isn’t the amount of oil that is produced that determines the cap, but the amount that is produced in relation to the amount that can be had in an economical manner. By that standard, they say, we hit a cap back in 2005, the last year that production was able to keep ahead of demand. The biggest indicator of this, they argue, is the fact that oil prices have risen consistently at roughly fifteen percent per year since then, rather than stabilizing, which is what normally occurs when demand is met.

Because of this, they say that governments should refocus their efforts; moving from arguments about moving off oil because of environmental concerns to much larger concerns about the future fragility of the global oil supply. Failure to do so, they argue, could result in wild swings in oil prices adversely impacting world economies and the hardships that could occur as a result.

Explore further: Satellite data measures Nile water for region security

More information: Climate policy: Oil's tipping point has passed, Nature 481, 433–435 (26 January 2012) doi:10.1038/481433a
The economic pain of a flattening supply will trump the environment as a reason to curb the use of fossil fuels, say James Murray and David King.

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gopher65
4 / 5 (9) Jan 26, 2012
I'd say that this is pretty obvious, and I can't understand why so many politicians fail to reach this conclusion. It would be in their own best, long term interests to start switching to *any* near-term alternative to oil: coal, wind, U235 fission, Th232 fission (especially this one), thermal solar, dam hydro, in river hydro.

About the only power sources currently being worked on in any significant way that still require more than a few years of research before large-scale use begins are: photovoltaic solar, U238 fission, liquid Th232 fission (which would be an awesome replacement for regular Th232 reactors), and various types of fusion.

(Note that while a lot of people talk about tidal energy with dreamy eyes, it would have to be used on a small scale. There is comparatively little of it to be had, due to fundamental limitations. Even harvesting all of it at 100% efficiency wouldn't power a single decent sized country. But what the heck, why not use it.)
Forestgnome
2 / 5 (19) Jan 26, 2012
Yes, our government isn't doing enough to control our behaviour. If only we could live like those professors wanted us to live we would all be better off. Fact is production can easily outpace demand. Why would any company produce more of their product than they can sell at market?
Shootist
1.9 / 5 (26) Jan 26, 2012
But what the heck, why not use it.)


Because it costs more than it produces?

1) Congress should use its power over the courts to forbid lawsuits being used to stop fission reactor construction.

2) Drill here, drill now, drill everywhere. Use the oil and gas to bridge the research lead time.

3) Remove all taxes and fees from development costs of new tech. No other government intervention should be necessary.

4) Congress should authorize Prizes for successful technology demonstrations. Say, $10 billion for the first company to successfully demonstrate a p -> B fusion reactor. $10 billion for the first consortium to orbit a Solar Power Satellite. $10 Billion for first PEM fuel cell that costs $5000 for 5kw output.

Prizes are great, they cost the taxpayer nothing unless something is actually achieved. As opposed to the Solyndra method of spending our money.

Anything the government touches will cost more and take longer. Remember TSA is about as good as the Government ge
Noumenon
1.8 / 5 (28) Jan 26, 2012
All agree, they say, that there will come a time when there wont be enough oil to meet our needs and if other alternatives arent found, well eventually find ourselves having to do without altogether.


No, "all" don't agree. That is cartoonish alarmism, and dumb guy analysis.

We will never run low on oil such that "there wont be enough oil to meet our needs, and other alternatives arent found", at the same time.

In fact we will never even run flat out of oil. It will just end up staying in the ground because other sources of energy will be cheaper, at some point in the future.
Noumenon
1.9 / 5 (30) Jan 26, 2012
...where they argue that governments arent doing enough to wean modern societies off of oil and onto more sustainable and stable sources, including atomic energy.


Free market forces and economic equilibrium is the only true litmus test for what future energy sources are adopted.

The government is not competent enough in determining a-priori, what economies will adapt or what will work on a massive scale, ....as Solyndra demonstrates, and the fact that Germany is going off nuclear for "renewable".

Government sponsored politics gets in the way also, with the environMentalists tree-huggers being AGAINST nuclear, and for renewable energy and social engineering.

I am for a massive government funding of a Manhattan'esque project for fission and/or safer nuclear, as a matter of national defense, however, because we know this will work.

I believe the political left is using the environmental/energy "crisis" as a foot-in-the-door for socialistic politics. This will fail.
julianpenrod
1.2 / 5 (21) Jan 26, 2012
The horror with which so many likely respond to the phrase "do without"! The New World Order generated consumer culture has worked well on the dullards, reducing them to a debased condition where they'd destroy the world and slaughter millions to avoid living in a way that meets their needs and even wants, but might require some doing to facilitate empty, mindless whims! Solar farms will ruin cloud climates and create abnormal temperature differentials. Robbing energy from wind, wind farms eliminae amounts of wind, which will destabilize the atmosphere. It the "scientists" cared about this purported "danger", they would push for home energy systems, hand cranked onto a giant flywheel, recharging rafts of no more than 25 car type batteries. They just want more lucrative grants and govenrment investment in crony corporations who don't have anything of value to sell!
ryggesogn2
2.2 / 5 (27) Jan 26, 2012
Oil was quite useless until sperm whale oil became so expensive for lighting.
Coal gas was used and then when Rockefeller created an efficient refining process for kerosene, his business and others boomed.
Prices provide the feedback to entrepreneurs.
Govts, and stupid professors, think they can apply sin taxes to artificially raise prices, but that just creates gray and black markets. And the govts get hooked on the tax revenue so they now have an interest in keeping that tax revenue coming in.
AlwaysRight
3.2 / 5 (10) Jan 26, 2012


We will never run low on oil such that "there wont be enough oil to meet our needs, and other alternatives arent found", at the same time.

In fact we will never even run flat out of oil. It will just end up staying in the ground because other sources of energy will be cheaper, at some point in the future.


And what fuel will be transporting us after petroleum products? What materials will be replacing plastics? There is none that I know of. This is not an alarmist topic at all and it is established that conventional oil production peaked in the time from 2005-2008. Production has remained flat from 2005 onward despite increasing demand from China and India.

Even global events indicate peak oil. The whole US policy with Iran is completely focused on oil production and not causing global shocks to the price by taking their exports of 2.5mb/d offline. That's 3% of global demand of 85mb/d.. and that will cause a surge in prices. Quite alarming.

ryggesogn2
1.8 / 5 (15) Jan 26, 2012
Quite alarming.

So form a govt committee to plan a way forward?
There are millions of individuals in the real world that with the proper market incentives WILL find a solution because it is in their self-interest to do so.
Why do govts want to de-motivate those millions of individuals?
AlwaysRight
2.7 / 5 (7) Jan 26, 2012
This faith in free market forces coming up with a solution is akin to faith in a deity IMO. The market is based on an exponential infinite growth system. I've never encountered one of those in physics. In fact, market forces have collaborated to impede any progress of some potential technologies (i.e "Who Killed the Electric Car"). Also, proper market incentives would require an acknowledgement of the problem, that hasn't occurred yet. The problem being we can't observe production numbers in real time, only after the fact.

Reading this site frequently, I have not seen any emerging technologies that can replace oil products. All alternative forms of creating petroleum products aren't scalable.

I'm sure many govts have formed committees and are trying to find a way forward. So far all I have witnessed is conquest by force...
Noumenon
1.6 / 5 (23) Jan 26, 2012
In fact, market forces have collaborated to impede any progress of some potential technologies (i.e "Who Killed the Electric Car").


The market is not ready to adopt electric cars, because oil is still cheap, and it is not a feasible investment to create the infrastructure required, ...so the argument that the market is impeding progress, is meaningless.

The conditions don't exist for electric cars to be a reality on the large scale. The term "impeding" implies that something could have happened, but is being prevented from happening. Since the market is the determining factor in defining what "could happen", in this context, your statement is meaningless.
Noumenon
1.5 / 5 (22) Jan 26, 2012
This faith in free market forces coming up with a solution is akin to faith in a deity IMO. The market is based on an exponential infinite growth system. I've never encountered one of those in physics.


None-sense, it is based on history of technological advance, and the fact that alternatives like nuclear are already proven.

Even if "the government" came up with solutions, they still must be adopted by the free market,... unless near future governments become socialistic or communist and force such "solutions" onto free people. My prediction is that humanity would rather go down with the ship.
Noumenon
1.7 / 5 (24) Jan 26, 2012
And what fuel will be transporting us after petroleum products? What materials will be replacing plastics? There is none that I know of. I have not seen any emerging technologies that can replace oil products.


I don't know yet. This will play out in due time. The point is that government has never demonstrated such infinite wisdom that it can engineer future societies. The greatness of western civilization was due to a recognition of this, and a limited government, and free market.

You don't know of any alternatives because, Right Now, there is no motive for the free market forces to invest and develop alternatives. Alarmist thoughts and speculations are a dime a dozen, are not the motive force that will amount to anything.

Potential for profit is the motive force that will actually accomplish the move to alternatives. You will not see such investment on a massive scale until the market begins to recognize that potential, and this won't happen until oil becomes more expensive
ryggesogn2
1.5 / 5 (23) Jan 26, 2012
And it was potential for profit that motivated Rockefeller to save the sperm whales and it was profit that motivated Edison to put Rockefeller out of the kerosene lamp market and it was profit that motivated Rockefeller to find a market for the gasoline waste products from kerosene.
Now, it is rent seekers like Buffet that strangle domestic production. Buffet's rail stands to make more money without the Keystone pipeline.
Enron pushed for the Kyoto treaty so they could sell more CNG.
So why won't the socialists support CNG?
ShotmanMaslo
2.5 / 5 (10) Jan 26, 2012
Finally, someone said it.

Its not the environment, but peak oil that will be the primary reason for the push to get off of oil in the 21st century. People dont really care that much about the effects of global warming. But when the scientists will begin to imply that it is their energy-intensive lifestyle that will be endangered, the funds (both public and private) will flow much much faster into the development of alternatives.

I dont really get it, why the issue of peak oil is being so ignored nowadays. Whole modern civilisation de facto runs on oil.
ryggesogn2
1.5 / 5 (24) Jan 26, 2012
How many times has peak oil been predicted?
"This is actually the fifth time in modern history that we've seen widespread fear that the world was running out of oil. The first was in the 1880s, when production was concentrated in Pennsylvania and it was said that no oil would be found west of the Mississippi. Then oil was found in Texas and Oklahoma. Similar fears emerged after the two world wars. And in the 1970s, it was said that the world was going to fall off the "oil mountain." But since 1978, world oil output has increased by 30%.

Just in the years 2007 to 2009, for every barrel of oil produced in the world, 1.6 barrels of new reserves were added."
http://online.wsj...340.html
So the watermelons have to find some other excuse to limit economic growth.
GDM
2.4 / 5 (9) Jan 26, 2012
...and it is profit potential that socialist/communist/capitalist/China maintains slave labor to produce solar products, dumping them even below their cost, and thereby crushing any possible competition from US and European companies. And we still buy their products because they are cheaper, even though it is destroying our ability to compete in a "free market". Solyndra was blind-sided by this. Our government is now seeking redress through a variety of means available. Good government is one that protects of its people against all enemies, foreign or domestic.
Noumenon
1.4 / 5 (21) Jan 26, 2012
Gov control of production (china) is NOT free market, thus of course our gov should do something to protect it's people. The point was that our gov shouldn't be in the business of speculating.
ryggesogn2
1.2 / 5 (19) Jan 26, 2012
...and it is profit potential that socialist/communist/capitalist/China maintains slave labor to produce solar products, dumping them even below their cost, and thereby crushing any possible competition from US and European companies. And we still buy their products because they are cheaper, even though it is destroying our ability to compete in a "free market". Solyndra was blind-sided by this. Our government is now seeking redress through a variety of means available. Good government is one that protects of its people against all enemies, foreign or domestic.

There ain't no free lunch. Govt sanctioned slave labor can't last. Rent seekers like Solyndra get fat and sloppy with subsidies.
Fighting socialism with more socialism is insane.
ryggesogn2
1.2 / 5 (19) Jan 26, 2012
"Ener1--a company that manufactures batteries for electric cars, and that received $118.5 million in federal stimulus money, and that Vice President Joe Biden visited last year the day after President Obamas State of the Union Addressannounced today that it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection."
http://cnsnews.co...nkruptcy
ekim
5 / 5 (7) Jan 26, 2012
The free market didn't create the Manhattan Project, the Internet, computers, space flight or hydraulic fracking, to name a few. Various government agencies funded their creation. Those initial investments by the government seem to have payed off.
ryggesogn2
1.3 / 5 (18) Jan 26, 2012
The free market didn't create the Manhattan Project, the Internet, computers, space flight or hydraulic fracking, to name a few. Various government agencies funded their creation. Those initial investments by the government seem to have payed off.

I don't know about fracking but everything else you mentioned was funded for specific national defense applications. DoD does provide funding for new technologies but in a controlled, limited process.
Instead of subsidizing Solyndra, why didn't govt place an order for their solar panels?
ekim
5 / 5 (2) Jan 27, 2012
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 was the reason for loans being made to various companies. The act made no provisions for purchasing green technology.
The R&D of fracking was undertaken by the Department of Energy, along with several other related technologies.
kaasinees
3.3 / 5 (7) Jan 27, 2012
NASA is gov funded.
RitchieGuy
1 / 5 (11) Jan 27, 2012
http://blogs.wsj....ocedure/

http://hotair.com...n-parts/

NASA is funded with taxpayers' money that is taken by force by the U.S. government and not always put to good, efficient and legitimate uses. The above links clearly illustrate the waste of taxpayers' money by the Obama adminisration in "investing" our money in failing "green" corporations with their knowledge of its impending failure. If this is how the government intends to encourage the future discoveries of alternative energy and continue to invest American taxpayers' money in failed or failing companies just to avoid further drilling and use of oil and its products, the taxpayers should have a voice in which corporations get that money and a timeline until production must be guaranteed by those corporations.
ryggesogn2
1.4 / 5 (9) Jan 27, 2012
NASA is gov funded.

The Apollo program was a national defense program.
rawa1
1 / 5 (7) Jan 27, 2012
Now we are facing the nuclear war with Iran, just because mainstream physicists ignored the cold fusion research for twenty years because of fear from lost of their own research, jobs and money. When the rules of society are adjusted in the way, a small group of people can profit into account of the rest, who will prohibit it in its stance?

http://pesn.com/2..._Fusion/
http://pesn.com/2...locaust/
ryggesogn2
1.5 / 5 (8) Jan 27, 2012
"If Westport reaps the predicted windfall, one of the chief beneficiaries will be George Soros, a major Obama donor and supporter. Soross hedge fund holds 3,160,063 company shares (as of its last SEC filing).

Soros has given $384,090 to the Democratic Party, Democratic PACs, and Democratic Candidates in the three election cycles beginning in 2008, including $4,400 to Obama himself, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. "
http://blog.herit...roposal/
ForFreeMinds
1.7 / 5 (6) Jan 28, 2012
This is another example of those living on government funds, looking for more government funds (grants) to do research for a non-problem in spite of their chicken little rhetoric. And in return, government gets people who support their power grabbing schemes (spend more money on alternatives that the market doesn't want).

When (and if) oil runs out, then there's CNG, coal, nuclear and solar power (among others) to fuel transportation, though at this time, a more costly alternative.

The authors promote more tax money to themselves, and to government who funded their work. It's an alliance made in the plenty of energy region of hell.

Pkunk_
1 / 5 (3) Jan 29, 2012
If two teenagers with a $400 budget can lift up a balloon to suborbital altitudes , whats stopping us from lofting up thousands of solar panels to geostationary orbit ?
Solar pretty much sucks when you have to deal with the vagaries of night/day and the climate. But it space you have 100% power 24/7 . Beam it down using microwaves to a rectanna and you are in business with a permanent power source which costs next to nothing to operate.

http://i60.photob...IGHT.jpg
http://www.youtub...GR6bPA#!
^^^ the above photo and video were taken by the two teens i mentioned above
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (6) Jan 29, 2012
whats stopping us from lofting up thousands of solar panels to geostationary orbit

Money and gravity.
Can't use balloons to get into a geo-synch orbit.
2nd, how do you plan to get the power to earth?
3, how long do you plan to have the solar panel function in space with its >200K temp swings and harsh radiation environments?

Space is not easy.
ryggesogn2
1.6 / 5 (7) Jan 29, 2012
If two teenagers with a $400 budget can lift up a balloon to suborbital altitudes , whats stopping us from lofting up thousands of solar panels to geostationary orbit ?
Solar pretty much sucks when you have to deal with the vagaries of night/day and the climate. But it space you have 100% power 24/7 . Beam it down using microwaves to a rectanna and you are in business with a permanent power source which costs next to nothing to operate.

http://i60.photob...IGHT.jpg
^^^ the above photo and video were taken by the two teens i mentioned above

Here is a place you can invest:
http://spaceenerg...bout.htm
kochevnik
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 29, 2012
@Nowmoron The market is not ready to adopt electric cars, because oil is still cheap, and it is not a feasible investment to create the infrastructure required, ...so the argument that the market is impeding progress, is meaningless.

The conditions don't exist for electric cars to be a reality on the large scale. The term "impeding" implies that something could have happened, but is being prevented from happening. Since the market is the determining factor in defining what "could happen", in this context, your statement is meaningless.
Iran blocking Strait of Hormuz or Syria flaring into chaos can send oil to $250/barrel and petrol to $8/gallon. People are getting sick of conservative myopia, which flip-flops with the market price. At $8 you will be demanding wars.
ryggesogn2
1.7 / 5 (6) Jan 29, 2012
It shouldn't be surprising how ignorant people are about creating and producing products for a mass, highly regulated market like autos.
After creating the technology it must be massed produced with a highly reliable end product.
Next, the new technology must have an infrastructure to support it. There was a time when gasoline was not easily available. Drug stores sold gasoline.
The product must be reliable for several years AND pass govt safety regulations AND be insurable AND have companies willing to finance purchases.
This won't be accomplished by govt fiat no matter how much the socialist may wish it so.
hopper
1.3 / 5 (4) Jan 29, 2012
US oil production has increased for the last four years. US natural gas reserves have exploded in the the last 3 years from a 20 year supply to over a 100 year supply. Oil reserveres are expected to follow a similar trajectory in the next couple years. In both cases the reasons for this is fracking. The technology has been around for decades but there have been some significant improvements in the last five years that made well known--but exploitable-- oil/gas fields available for the first time to oil drillers.

The good professors are already out of date.
Howhot
3 / 5 (2) Jan 29, 2012
"Oil reserveres are expected to follow a similar trajectory in the next couple years"

And your sources are whom? I'm betting 10 year max on Oil as demand still continues upward without stop. With the economic collapse of Europe, I would image we might extend that to 12 years since they won't be using any.

I'm in agreement with the article, that the forces that will drive people to use alternative energies is not going to be green heads like me preaching at the ignorant. It's going to be the economics of gas in the tank vs electricity from your roof (or wind from a farm..) (It also may take UN IPPC mandated retraining camps for the most ardent AGW deniers. Fox brain washing can be severe don't you know).

All kidding aside, it's going to take a huge global effort to roll back the man made climate changes cause by 1950's science.


ryggesogn2
1.7 / 5 (6) Jan 29, 2012
huge global effort

Yes, it's called the sun.
kochevnik
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 29, 2012
US oil production has increased for the last four years.
Yeah because oil is going to $250/barrel. Companies are obliged to pump by corporate charter. As for reserves, much are in far-flung wastelands or require expensive, energy-intensive extraction vastly diminishing yield and escalating price. I imagine as oil approaches $1000/barrel even more 'reserves' will be rediscovered. Still you passed the peak and you're in permanent global oil decline.
Howhot
3 / 5 (2) Jan 29, 2012
Thanks R2 for the reminder about the Sun. I forgot it was there.
Still the Sun is like 1Au in distance from earth so it's the cause of Earths global warming trend? I think not, because if that was the case we would be cooling, and obviously the Ks, Tx weather would disagree. Same with the polar ice caps, the mountain glaciers, the Greenland Ice sheets and every place else. It a global effect.

I've seen this in a Laboratory, So you take a sheet of aluminum unpolished and the dull roughest surface you can find. In an infrared video, it looks like a polished mirror. CO2 gas is also reflective kind of looking like half silvered mirror depending on the concentration. The AGW is about that.
The faster we burn fossil fuels, the more reflective the atmosphere becomes toward infrared is reflected back towards the surface of Earth. That becomes trapped heat. We have set at an equilibrium of 280ppm for millions of years and then with the industrial revolution it 380ppm. BAM! AGW
Howhot
3 / 5 (2) Jan 29, 2012
So you take a sheet of aluminum unpolished and the dull roughest surface you can find. In an infrared video, it looks like a polished mirror. CO2 gas is also reflective kind of looking like half silvered mirror depending on the concentration.


So basically R2, adding extreme amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere (way way beyond what natural vulcanization adds mind you) is like adding additional silver to a "see through" mirror.

Eventually, it's to much with respect to the Earth's ecosystems. That is not good for us humans since we live and are part of those ecosystems.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) Jan 30, 2012
whats stopping us from lofting up thousands of solar panels to geostationary orbit ?

- Cost

- Environmental impact (rocket exhausts are incredible ozone killers)

- Efficiency (the energy used to get these contraptions into orbit is WAY more than they can ever beam down per kg of solar cell or mirror. So it would be more efficient to burn the rocket fuel directly in ground based powerplants - AND environmentally more friendly)

- Solar mirrors need to be big. This makes them extremely vulnerable to coronal mass ejections ("space weather") and debris. You can't move them out of the way.

- Installing solar panels on the ground is ORDERS of magnitude cheaper. Even with the fact that they only get you a third of the output of what space based solar would.

- Repairs, replacements in high orbit aren't feasible because...

- ...Low orbit makes no sense (because then you have day/night just like on the ground). Geosynch is hard to do with large installations.