Peak oil

Gas prices have been falling here; the latest at “my” station is $3.93/gal for regular.  But is this drop going to persist, or is it just a temporary lull in the upward climb??

I’ve come across the term “peak oil” a lot lately, and I didn’t really know anything about it.  So I did what I tell my students to do, if they’re assigned a topic that they’ve never heard of: go to Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia article was long, but interesting.  I don’t know how accurate it was, but it did have lots of documentation.  Here was the definition it gave of peak oil: “the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline.  Because the world’s petroleum supply is effectively fixed, if global oil consumption is not mitigated before the decline phase begins, a world energy crisis may develop because the availability of conventional oil will drop causing prices to rise, perhaps dramatically.”

Economics is a tough subject for me, and I have a business degree.  I understand the law of supply and demand pretty well, though, and I know that there are so many factors that impact both the supply and demand for oil that no one can predict exactly what’s going to happen.  The peak oil theory was first described by M. King Hubbert, who predicted in 1956 that U.S. oil production would peak between 1965 and 1970.  He turned out to be right. and his theory has since been used to accurately predict the peak oil production of several other countries. 

The prediction for the occurrence of peak oil for the world as a whole is based on the cumulative peaks of each country, and most of the oil-producing countries have already peaked.  But it’s not that easy.  It’s hard to determine the remaining supplies of a lot of countries, who may have reasons to not fully disclose their holdings.  It’s hard to determine how much demand will rise or fall globally.  It’s hard to determine how difficult or expensive it will be to get oil out of places where it’s not easily reached.  Hence, the disagreement.  Some say that global peak oil has already occurred within the past few years; some say we’re there right about now; some say it will happen by 2010; and some say that production will plateau but never fall off by enough to have disastrous consequences.

What would those disastrous consequences be?  According to Wikipedia: “a global depression, perhaps even initiating a chain reaction…which might stimulate a collapse of global industrial civilization, potentially leading to large population declines within a short period.”  Border wars over oil, a survivalist mentality, no gasoline, scarce food, scarce electricity…some of the predictions reminded me of the postapocalyptic scenario in The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.

Is that what would really happen?  If you do a Google search for “peak oil,” you’ll find plenty of websites that say so.  There are also a few sites that deny the phenomenon of peak oil altogether.  Most of the experts seem to be somewhere in the middle – peak oil will happen, but it may not have the terrible outcome predicted by some, if we prepare ourselves.

This post, from Crunchy Chicken, is the most reasonable blog post (to my thinking, anyway) that I’ve seen so far on the subject.  She makes a distinction between the male and female responses to peak oil – the male response is more along survivalist lines, and the female response is more along preparedness lines.  From what I’ve read, that does seem to be the case.  Men are looking for the ammo for their shotguns, while we women are learning more about gardening, canning our vegetables, and stocking up on peanut butter and toilet paper.  In other words, preparing.

No one knows what the future holds.  However, every June, most of us here in Florida start preparing for a hurricane, even though there may not be one approaching at the moment.  Mindful preparation is the key to surviving anything that comes down the pike, whether it be bad weather, power outages, or energy shortages.  Educate yourself, then prepare accordingly.


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