George Monbiot recently penned an interesting article entitled ‘We were wrong on peak oil. There’s enough to fry us all‘ which clearly shows that he is clueless about what the definition of Peak Oil is. George, you are an influential writer; so please read the following explanation when writing future articles about oil:
Peak Oil is the term used to describe the point when worldwide production of conventional crude oil peaks in volume, which is expected to result in increased oil prices due to a decline in the availability of cheap and easily accessible oil sources. The low hanging fruit, as it were, has been plucked.
In Monbiot’s article, he never mentions EROI or EROEI which basically is the energy you get back after investing/expending a certain amount of energy to retrieve that barrel of oil. There are a lot of resources that explain this, but I recommend Chris Martenson’s crash course, Chapter 17b, since that was the first place that taught me.
Monbiot, along with the typical business-as-usual oil analysts, misses the fact that conventional crude production has been flat since 2004 and declares that all the Peak Oil experts were wrong. He makes the mistake of lumping crude oil extraction, a conventional source, with the more generic term of ‘liquid fuels’ which include unconventional sources like deep-sea drilling, tar sands, shale oil, liquefied coal, and biofuels. The conventional sources of oil have higher EROI’s than the harder-to-get unconventional sources. This means that as we turn more and more to the difficult-to-extract sources, we get less bang for the buck because we are spending an increasing amount of our economy’s limited resources on obtaining that critical energy. Less net energy means a smaller budget for societal complexity, thus, a return to a simpler society. And the trip down the net energy ladder is an exponential, not linear, descent. Even though Monbiot completely misunderstands what Peak Oil is and that we have indeed reached it, he at least realizes what will result from our scraping of the bottom of the EROI barrel — a global ecological catastrophe. And that is something that all peak oil deniers fail to acknowledge.
Peak Oil never meant we would run out of oil; it just meant that we would get the easy stuff first and then be forced to spend ever more to get what’s left. This means more oil spills, polluted groundwater, and damage to our planet than occurred when the black stuff flowed abundantly from easily accessible areas in the earth’s crust.
Worldwide, the average EROI of oil is down to 20:1 from its original value of 100:1 eighty years ago. In the 1930s, it took about one barrel of energy to extract 100 barrels of energy. By 1970, with deeper wells and greater energy expenditures for pumping and processing the oil, the EROI of domestic oil had fallen to 40:1. Today U.S. oil is produced at an EROI of about 14:1. Globally, it takes the energy in one barrel of oil to extract 20 barrels of oil. This means that our oil-fuelled economy simply has less capacity to generate wealth than it did back then, because we have to increase the share of the energy that used to be dedicated to producing goods and services back into extracting more energy.
Even more troubling than oil’s 20:1 global average is the figure for new oil, just 5:1. It takes a lot of energy to drill five miles under the ocean and pump crude back to a refinery, or to cook tar sands to extract a usable fuel. The energy wellspring at the heart of our economy no longer gushes a torrent of wealth; it is a smaller, much-diminished stream. – source
Fortunately, there was at least one commenter of George’s article at the Guardian who understands all this:
George, peak cheap oil has come and gone. Hubbert’s sphere was the low-hanging fruit. EROEI with what remains means a permanent era of high energy prices: this is, put simply, the difference between charging folk to pick-yer-own strawberries and paying workers to harvest them from treetops (health & safety precautions included).
Studying this phenomenon, in 2007-8 I predicted a downward staircase pattern whereby oil would spike repeatedly every 1-3 years; this would burst economic bubbles and create recession and demand destruction. The latter would calm the price back down and then the cycle would repeat itself. I see no reason at all to alter that forecast…
I noticed that Dave Cohen also did a Monbiot write-up explaining the naivety of George in his jumping on the bandwagon of the corporate fossil fuel PR team. Human bias runs through 99% of mankind’s discourse; so the sooner you learn to question everything, the better off you will be in learning to discern the truth from self-serving ulterior motives.
Now back to my supposed sabbatical…