The Next Energy Crisis? Peak Oil

Posted by Trish Riley, September 10, 2009

oilrigI understand the concept of Peak oil: We’ve used up the supply of readily available oil and from now on the resource will be dwindling. But I don’t follow the almost Bush-like tendency toward fear about this prospect. Yes, we won’t have oil, but HEY! We don’t want oil! Our objective as we attempt to clean up the planet is to reduce our reliance on oil and all synthetic chemical products that stem from it. So freaking out about the fact that we’ve got less of it in our future isn’t really appropriate to me. I am glad that the supply is dwindling, since we know that the more oil we use, the more damage we wreak upon the planet. Our objective is finding alternatives to oil so we can create a more sustainable future.

Here’s an article about Peak Oil:

While Peak Oil will be a global problem, this discussion focuses on its impact on the United States and what Americans can do in response and anticipation.

Two-thirds of the oil used in the U.S. is converted into fuel for transportation. Only about 3% of transportation in this country is powered by electricity. While a few types of vehicles have been converted to electric or hybrid power, no one has designed an electric airplane or a solar-powered bulldozer.

Thus, if we have an oil shortage, we have a transportation and distribution crisis. The spread of our cities, suburbs and exurbs has gone forward under the assumption that we could rely on cars–and cheap gas to power them. Just-in-time manufacturing and the globalization of production assume that trucks, trains and ships will be able to move parts and products with ease. We depend on cars and buses to get to schools, offices and hospitals. We once built compact cities that relied on walking or electrically powered buses and trains (like New York City and Boston), but as soon as workers could afford cars we chose another path.

A second major use of oil–about 25%–is as the raw material for the chemical and plastics industries. Petroleum is an ingredient in everything from pesticides to carpets, and the packaging these products come in. When the U.S. endured oil shortages in the 1970’s, one of the first scarcities to become evident was raw materials for chemicals and plastics.

The balance of oil is mostly used for generating electricity (only about 3% to 5% of electricity produced comes from burning oil) or heating homes (especially in the Northeast).

FUEL FOR FOOD

From a different perspective, about one-third of all the oil and gas in the U.S. is used for food production in one form or another. Farmers use diesel-fueled tractors to spread oil-based pesticides and gas-based fertilizers on fields watered by central-point irrigation systems connected to electric pumps, then harvest the grain, ship it (by trucks, trains and barges) to feedlots for fattening chickens, cows and pigs, or to factories for

creating processed food that is then packaged in plastic, frozen (more electricity), shipped to warehouses or grocery stores and restaurants, sold to people, cooked and ultimately disposed of in landfills along with all the wastes created at every step of the process. It is estimated that 10 calories of energy from oil go into every food calorie consumed. It is further estimated that the average food item travels 1500 miles from the farm or feedlot to get to the consumer.

Another major user of oil is the military, from the fuel for tanks and airplanes and ships to the feeding of personnel and the upkeep of military bases around the world. Since one of the main missions of the American military is securing the flow of energy to our country, much of the defense budget could actually be considered a component of energy costs.

Peak Oil does not mean that oil will suddenly be unavailable at any price, but prices will certainly go up. The most immediate effect will be stagnation in the amount of oil available on the world market, and then supplies will gradually fall. ASPO projects that world production will fall from 84 million bpd today to 80 million in 2010 and 70 million in 2020. However, 84 million bpd today is 100% of demand, while 80 million in 2010 is only 86% of projected global demand and 70 million in 2020 is less than 60% of projected demand. Those are real shortages.

Can’t we just find more oil? The problem is that no “elephant” fields have been found worldwide since the early 1970s, and not for lack of looking. We shouldn’t rely on discovering another Saudi Arabia or West Texas-sized field in the next few months.

The bottom line is that much will change, but not in a disastrous way. We will have the opportunity to create or rebuild local communities and the massive consumption that we both enjoy and decry will gradually diminish. Since the perceived level of happiness in the population today is no greater than it was in the 1950s–when per capita GDP was less than half of current levels, we can clearly adjust to this challenge in a healthy way.

via The Next Energy Crisis.

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