Americans have always been largely isolated from the world's problems, and have had no recent experience of the wars and strife that affect so much of the world. "It can't happen here" is their instinctive reaction. A tankful of gasoline is regarded as their unalienable right, but as shortages grow after world peak, they will have to compete with the rest of the world for precious supplies. I am doing my best to alert people to what is coming. I think that there is much that could be usefully be done, given the understanding and political will. It is a very grave situation that we face. It is madness to ignore it.
—L.F. "Buzz" Ivanhoe, The Coming Oil Crisis; p. 86.
This much is certain: no initiative put in place starting today can have a substantial effect on the peak production year. No Caspian Sea exploration, no drilling in the South China Sea, no SUV replacements, no renewable energy projects can be brought on at a sufficient rate to avoid a bidding war for the remaining oil. At least, let's hope that the war is waged with cash instead of with nuclear weapons.
So when does world oil production peak and then start downward? That's the big enchilada. You can use the spacing between the recent production dots and see that four or five more dots will carry us to the plus sign that marks the midpoint. Once we draw that straight line through the year 2000 dot, the logistic curve is fully defined. The mathematical peak falls at the year 2004.7; call it 2005. However, I'm not betting the farm that the actual year is 2005 and not 2003 or 2006. The top of the mathematical distribution is smoothly curved, and there is a fair amount of jitter in the year-to-year production. Remember, the center of the best-fit U.S. curve was 1975 and the actual single peak year was 1970. There is nothing plausible that could postpone the peak until 2009. Get used to it.
—Kenneth S. Deffeyes; Hubbert's Peak: The Impending
World Oil Shortage; p. 149,157-8.
All our modern science confirms the ancient wisdom, technology and value judgments go together. The illusion of miracles and unlimited free gifts from nature were spawned by the too rapid unlocking of the earth's reserve treasures, a new Fall. We must be well down the path of change to reduce oil dependence during the first decade of the new century. The global day of reckoning will soon be upon us and those nations not prepared will suffer greatly.
—Brian J. Fleay; The Decline of the Age of Oil; p.140
The United States is perhaps the most vulnerable to the coming crisis having farther to fall after the boom years, which themselves were largely driven by foreign debt and inward investment. The growing shortfall in oil supply since its own peak of production was made good by soaring oil imports, now contributing more than half its needs, and a move to gas. The rate of import cannot, however, be maintained as other countries pass their own production peaks, putting ever more pressure on the Middle East. The North Sea is now at peak, with the UK being off 7% in 2000 and 16% off October to October, meaning that production is set to fall by one-half in ten years. For every barrel imported into the United States, there will be one less left for anyone else, a situation inevitably leading to international tensions.
The move to gas proved to be only a short-lived palliative. Gas depletes differently from oil. An uncontrolled gas well would blow it all away in one big puff. Production is, accordingly, capped by infrastructure and market, leaving a large, unseen balloon of readily available spare capacity. In a privatized market, trading on a daily basis, production becomes cheaper and cheaper as the original costs are written off and as this almost free spare capacity is drawn down. There were no market signals of the approach of the cliff at the end of the plateau. It accordingly came without warning, causing prices to surge through the roof, and bringing power blackouts to California. Canada is trying to make good the shortfall, but its stocks are falling fast too.
The US has to somehow find a way to cut its demand by at least five percent a year. It won’t be easy, but as the octogenarian said of old age “the alternative is even worse”. Europe faces the same predicament as North Sea production plummets. Although it may draw on gas from Russia, North Africa and the Middle East to see it over the transition, assuming that new pipelines can be built in time, that creates a new and unwelcome geopolitical dependency.
All of this is so incredibly obvious, being clearly revealed by even the simplest analysis of discovery and production trends. The inexplicable part is our great reluctance to look reality in the face and at least make some plans for what promises to be one of the greatest economic and political discontinuities of all time. Time is of the essence. It is later than you think.
—Colin J. Campbell; "Peak Oil: A Turning for
We have depleted most of our high-quality resources; the supply obtainable from low-quality deposits is largely limited by the supply of fuel; and the supply of fuel itself is bound by these constraints.
For the past fifty years at least, the efficiency with which the United States converts energy to goods and services has been primarily determined by the types of fuels consumed and household fuel consumption; over the last ten years fuel prices have also played an important role. For the future, expected changes in the fuel mix will depress the nation's energy efficiency, and the ability of households to reduce fuel consumption without also reducing living standards will be constrained. Rising real fuel prices would encourage greater energy efficiency and offset the effects of declining fuel quality but for obvious reasons do not represent a Utopian solution. Technology-based, painless ways of increasing the nation's energy efficiency are possible but unprecedented.
A substantially reduced rate of population growth in the United States would substantially reduce (but not eliminate) the pressures on the nation's resource base.
The quality of the nation's agricultural resources is deteriorating at an alarming rate, jeopardizing the United States' ability to continue as a food exporter. The decline is the result not only of modern farming methods, but, just as important, also of the consumer desires that determine what and how much food farmers must grow. As a result, farm bankruptcies are accelerating and the rural economy itself is in danger.
Therefore, if we want to be sure that people forty years from now will have enough fuel and other resources to maintain material living standards at a level near ours, we must either cut back our consumption of resources now or achieve some unprecedented technological breakthroughs to increase the efficiency with which we use resources.
The times we live in are often called the Space Age or the Atomic Age or the Computer Age. Yet while the technologies from which these names are derived have often dominated the headlines, they have had only a peripheral effect on our daily lives. How many of us have ever been in space, or known anyone who has been in space, or even used anything that has been in space? Nuclear reactors supply less than four percent of the nation's energy, and nuclear weapons have changed the daily lives and work of only a handful of people in the United States (although they've changed the way in which many more think about the future). Many people now interact with computers in one way or another, but again, the essence of our lifestyles today is little different from that of thirty years ago.
The substance that has affected the lives of more people in more ways than anything else in history has not yet lent its name to an Age. But, centuries hence, historians (or archeologists) will almost certainly refer to the period of 1900 to 2050 as the Oil Age. Oil has transformed practically everything —our jobs, our homes, our entertainment, our environment. Oil has made the 55 gallon drum probably the world's commonest and most widely distributed object. It is certain that oil has made the United States the world's biggest economic, agricultural, and military power, and the Soviet Union the second biggest. The United States (and Western civilization) is oil.
But people who are voters and decision makers today (including the authors of this book) will live to see the end of the Oil Age. There are only ten or twenty years of per capita economic growth remaining before declining oil and gas production begins to drag the economy downhill. When that occurs, so much time and effort will have to be spent dealing with the week-to-week contingencies involved in meeting people's basic needs that it will be impossible to plan a post-Oil Age economy. Thus, we have now a small and closing window of continued prosperity during which we enjoy the luxury of deciding, consciously and carefully, what sort of economy we would like to have after the oil runs out. Moreover, this window of prosperity allows us to make long-term investments in fuel-saving and fuel-producing technologies with the least pain. Such investments will have to be made sometime: it would be far better to make them while we're still getting richer instead of while we're getting poorer.
It's probably impossible to overestimate the difficulty involved in making people think about and plan for a lean future during a fat present. The task would be made easier if we knew more about the nation's carrying capacity, if we could say with a measure of certainty, "Here is what the future will look like if we pursue strategy A; this is what will happen with strategy B." This book is an early step toward that goal. Further steps, however, will require far more complete and accurate data than is currently available. It is very difficult to track energy flows through the economy because no one keeps consistent, integrated records. And, unfortunately, the one entity with an explicit mission "to promote the general welfare" has, under the Reagan administration, abrogated its responsibility to keep such records by curtailing its data collection in the name of deficit reduction. This shortsighted policy should be reversed forthwith if the United States is to have any chance of making a smooth, equitable transition away from oil and gas.
There should be little doubt that we will miss the Oil Age. The economic superstructure that has grown up around the exploitation of this resource —the concentration of ownership and distribution— has been widely criticized, and oil has contributed substantially to the pollution problem; but, in its heyday, it was more abundant and more versatile than any other fuel we have or can expect to have in the next forty years. Nostalgia for the hulking, all-steel cars of the 1940s and 1950s that the Oil Age gave us is already evident, and as we give up more and more of the goodies the Oil Age brought us, sighs for the "good old days" will become louder. But there is no doubt whatever that the Oil Age will soon be over and a new age —the Photovoltaic Age, perhaps— will dawn.
—John Gever; Beyond Oil: the Threat to
Food and Fuel in the Coming Decades; 1986; pp. 247-249