What is the most rational view of Peak Oil and its near term consequences?

by DavidPlumpton 8y4th Sep 201161 comments

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To me the following points seem hard to argue against:

 

  1. Oil is harder and harder to find every year (we already took the easy stuff, nobody finds super-giant fields anymore)
  2. The peak production year was 2005 with 73.7 million barrels produced
  3. The amount of oil produced each year is declining
  4. The price of oil (and therefore energy) rises
  5. All the alternatives that were supposed to fill the gap are failing to deliver
  6. Even oil that's harder to get (e.g. in deep water) doesn't help much as it is generally produced at a slow rate
  7. Available energy production rate (i.e. power) drops
  8. Since nearly everything needs power to create/mine/produce prices rise
  9. Food for example becomes more expensive as fertilizer prices rise
  10. The average person is mystified as the price of everything seems to rise at once
  11. Business and whole national economies are squeezed by rising prices
  12. As businesses fail unemployment increases
  13. Politicians are powerless, so promise general feel-good nonsense like "energy independence". Nobody even tries to tackle the problem.
  14. Everything continues to get worse, and at an increasing rate
  15. Within the near future the lights start to go out.
Sure there's a possibility that a form of nuclear fusion/thorium/cold fusion/zero point energy that is safe and cheap to build and operate might be invented tomorrow, but given that such things usually take a decade or so from inception to delivery it looks like there's no practical alternative on the horizon. Thermodynamics is a harsh mistress. Work out the energy in 73 million barrels of oil, and figure out how many wind farms are needed to offset a 5% decline. And then another decline the next year. Even uranium prices are rising as demand outstrips supply for just the current set of reactors.
The more we examing the situation the worse it seems to be. Some early wells had a enormous energy return on investment, e.g. for the energy of burning one barrel of oil we could pump 100 barrels from the ground. Now we are pumping wells that produce only about 5 barrels. This is known as EROEI (energy return on energy investment). EROEI is falling everywhere as all the low hanging fruit was plucking decades before, and only the difficult stuff is left. The net result is that it is ever harder to increase production rates.
Civilization runs on the constant supply of power. If that power declines 5% every year we are back to the middle ages before very long, and it's hard to develop a Friendly AI on an abacus.
One thing I've noticed a lot is reports about "Oil Sands", "Oil Shale", "Vast new possibilities of X barrels from biodiesel/microbes/algae/thermal depolymerization" etc. and none of these reports *ever* mention the *rate* of production that is expected (and years later they seem to have delivered nothing). The production rate is far more important than anything else; if the entire Earth was made of oil but we could only pump a million barrels a year for technical reasons then the total amount is pointless.
Please read at least the  Peak Oil Wikipedia article  before commenting. I'd rather not see a bunch of comments about "they don't even look for oil when there's 30 years of supply waiting in the ground".
So... what are my cognitive biases?

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