Monday, April 03, 2006


Certain acquaintances of mine - - family, friends, and so forth, are growing a bit weary of the whole peak oil meme.

I understand completely.

Familiarity breeds contempt, especially when the only accessible effect is higher pump prices. Common cynicism might kick in - - there is that war in Iraq, maybe, probably, it is about the oil. Things will settle down, just like 1991.

With that, the loop seemingly closes.

The peak is quite tricky here at the top, for humans to imagine. There is that sense that in the moment of now, there is more of everything, such that in thirty years there will be yet more of everything. Hopeful futurists, (short on arithmetic skills), step in, floating ideas like switchgrass tar sand hydrogen hybrids, or something.

This sense of plenty is an illusion. The dominos are falling now.

One of the largest oil fields in the world, Mexico’s Cantarell, is in depletion. Due to some peculiarities of the reservoir, (It was formed after an asteroid hit), decline is expected to be steep. So, Vicente Fox Announces Huge Oil Find, declaring the void filled. Rank propaganda. Sulfurous, chunky, underwater reserves don’t have a good track record. They are damn hard to produce. Hurricanes happen.

Cantarell is an oil field `supergiant`. (As an aside, it occurs to me that there might be a high value in graphing oil fields in a fashion similar to the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram in astronomy. Luminosity might correlate with ease of production, Mass with reserves divided by field area, and so on. I’ll do it, if someone can point me to a public dataset.) Ghawar is a supergiant. These two babies are slipping. Sugar prices are skyrocketing as a result. Odd, yes? What other surprise lurk?

Dominos. Consider this, from the devastated Gulf Coast region:

Gulf Platform Damage Still Being Assessed
An assessment by the Minerals Management Service showed that older facilities accounted for 109 of the 115 platforms that were destroyed. Those platforms were, with few exceptions, in the shallower Continental Shelf waters in the Gulf and were all built before new standards for platform construction went into effect in 1983, Howard said.
That number of platforms, while huge, represents only about 1.7 percent of the 1.5 billion barrels of oil a day that was produced in the Gulf of Mexico before Katrina and less than 1 percent of the natural gas. Because of their age and productivity, most of those platforms won't be rebuilt or repaired.
Last week, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman (said) "These are old fields. They tend to be depleted. And it was not economically viable to reinvest and to rebuild those. And so the companies haven't done it. They are drilling wells elsewhere. They're drilling further offshore and they're developing more reserves," he said.

I’m not sure I completely buy the line in the article that 109 facilities destroyed only account for 2% of production. Yet, that is beside the point. It is doubtless true that these rigs are not economically viable if rebuilt, especially with hurricanes stacking up for the next ten years.

Think. Oil companies are making record profits, and never mind the lack of development of new infrastructure. They won’t even work fields they know have reserves. Because they can’t. It doesn’t pencil out.

These subtleties are beyond the ken of the drill-more crowd. These are the folks who think nothing of turning national parks into pin cushions for a few pecks of methane.

A point in time is rapidly approaching wherein such foolishness will be physically impossible, except for those enthusiastic enough to use shovels.

Once upon a time there was a tiny, tiny chicken named Chicken Little.
One day Chicken Little was scratching in the garden when something fell on her head.
"Oh," cried Chicken Little, "the sky is falling. I must go tell the king."
So Chicken Little ran and ran, and she met Henny Penny.
"Where do you travel so fast, Chicken Little?" asked Henny Penny.
"Ah, Henny Penny," said Chicken Little, "the sky is falling, and I must go and tell the king."
"How do you know that the sky is falling, Chicken Little?" asked Henny Penny.
"I saw it with my eyes, I heard it with my ears, and a bit of it fell on my head," said Chicken Little.
"I will go with you to the king," said Henny Penny.


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