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View Diary: The 4 biggest oil fields in the world are in decline (197 comments)

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  •  Three Points (4.00)
    The debate should not be about `Energy' per se in the broadest sense, but the debate must be about how energy is used and energy density.

    The industrialized world uses all sorts of energy at a prodigious rate.  It matters a great deal that ~60% of energy usage comes directly from hydrocarbon based sources.

    Of that ~60%, a very large percentage goes into food production and transportation of foodstuffs to a consumer - doesn't matter whether it's in Australia, India, Ukraine, France Spain, Canada or the USA.

    High crop yields absolutely depend on pouring tons and tons of hydrocarbon based fuels and fertilizers on all aspects of food production.

    We consume 100 calories of foodstuff - it costs several hundred calories of energy to produce and transport that 100 consumable calories.  We are literally eating calories of hydrocarbons.

    The bottom line is that we (humanity) can only sustain our current population while hydrocarbon based fuels are plentiful - and I'm not talking about costs in dollars, yen or Euro's.  Monetary costs are irrelevant.  Costs in how much energy is available based on how much it costs (in energy) to extract/produce.  As someone pointed out, Tar Sands are expensive in that the net energy return is low for the energy input required to extract 1 unit of usable energy.  Recent reading suggests a ratio of 1:.7 is not out of line.  To be clear, 1 unit of energy is required to extract 7/10ths of 1 unit of usable energy in the form of refined hydrocarbon product.  A net energy loss.

    This brings us to energy density.  Hydrocarbon based energy is `dense' in that it takes little cubic space to pack X amount of energy into a given volume.  All other energy transport mechanisms, coal, hydrogen, LNG, propane etc., all require a larger volume of storage space for an equal amount of stored energy density.

    Why is this important?  Simply because the volume of energy that is used cannot be substituted for.  There is not enough coal to replace oil.  There isn't enough land to produce biomass for hydrogen replacement, there is not enough land to cover with solar cells to produce the equivalent amount of electricity, ad infinitum.

    Nuclear power.  As attractive or not as this power source is, it too has issues.  Obviously waste, but that (IMO) is more of a political issue that an engineering one.  But raw material - i.e., Uranium - is an issue.  Nukes only (currently) work with enriched uranium.  Gotta have that raw fuel material... And it too has been exploited.  Easily mined deposits are no more.  We come back to the energy in versus energy out equation.  When will it become more expensive in terms of net energy? Finally, fertilize that corn field with the electricity of that nuke plant.  Not gonna happen.

    Finally, reality.  The reality is that the vast majority of oil producing countries in this world are (or can be) under the control of radical religious factions.  It takes almost no stretch of the imagination to realize that an individual crazy "radical cleric" can literally hold the well being of no only the US but much of the first world in their hands should they choose to cutoff oil exports.

    If there is no oil available - at any price - for planting, fertilizing, harvesting, processing or transporting food, how long will our cities survive?  Rioting of recent memory will be but a pimple on a giants butt.  When people have no gas for their SUV's - that will be one thing.  Another will be when the food trucks do not show up at the grocery store.  

    For further reading:

    Anything by this diarist - Jerome a Paris
    And in the by Jerome on oil, peak oil and the consequences thereof.

    Peak oil isn't really about anything but extinction of the human race.  Couch in any terms you wish, but if we choose to not solve the problem, then The Olduvai Theory:
    Sliding Towards a Post-Industrial Stone Age will come to pass - and sooner rather than later.

    •  Hmm (none)
      Peak oil isn't really about anything but extinction of the human race.  Couch in any terms you wish, but if we choose to not solve the problem, then The Olduvai Theory:
      Sliding Towards a Post-Industrial Stone Age will come to pass - and sooner rather than later.

      I generally agree with what you've written here, but I don't think that humanity is going to be "extinct" anytime soon, as in, all humans dead.

      More likely, our global population will plunge to what would by today's standards be a ridiculously low level, and everyone left lives a stone-age standard of living for hundreds of years into the future. Maybe sometime far in the future, some sustainable civilization built on our ruins might start picking up the pieces, but that's beyond the years of anyone reading this (unless the person reading this is in the year 2350 having just figured out how to make power again and run our old computers). That's got to be an interesting science fair project for someone in the year 2500: what happened to the Great Global Civilization of the 20th Century? And why didn't they see it coming? Any idiot could have!

      Every now and then, I see morons on MSN posting articles about how the world population's going to be at 10 billion by 2050. Umm, nope, wrong. We'll be very lucky to even be at 1 billion at that point, maybe only 100 million!

    •  Solar (none)
      The article Jerome has linked to several times lately on peak oil, "Half Gone," cites a British government report:

      Of solar energy, the report concludes: "[It] alone could meet world energy demand by using less than 1 per cent of land currently used for agriculture."

      Now, if this is wrong, that calls into question the other claims of the article. If it is right, it calls into question your claims that we don't have enough land for solar to work.

      Which is it? Kind of an important question.

      •  How do you put solar into a car or diesel truck? (none)
        •  The hydrogen economy (none)
          I think this is what is meant by the hydrogen economy.  Suppose that solar cells become really cheap and efficient.  Nanotechnology may make this possible.  So perhaps in 20 years or so we will use solar power and use the electricity to split water to get the hydrogen to power our fuel cell vehicles.  This would be nice but we need to do something in the meantime.
          •  Well... (none)
            My point is, that stuff's all great and all, but do you see anything like that around right now? [Looks under rug, lifts couch cushions], nope, just several million regular gasoline combustion engines.

            So, while I agree that the energy from the sun is physically present, I do not think that we have or can do the things in the real world it will take to utilize that energy. The gap between there and here is too far, and we have too little time to leap it.

          •  A trillion dollars to change over (none)
            Hydrogen would require building an entire new infrastructure costing about 1 trillion dollars in the US.  I am doubtful that China will loan us that much more.

            At present fuel cells are not efficient enough to store energy as well as hydrocarbons and nuclear fuel do.

            I am optimistic that new solar technologies, like roof tiles, can help out on a small, local scale.  That would be a good thing.  Carpeting the desert with solar panels, however, would not only destroy habitat, it would also interfere with the desert (and its microorganisms) as a carbon sink.

            That Brit report sounds overwhelmingly, exaggeratedly optimistic.  Solar is a weak and diffuse energy--that's why you have to have vast tracts of panels, thousands of acres, to replace the energy from a 1000 megawatt nuke plant that takes up less than a third of a scare mile.  

            I am always wary of calculations about energy that make such claims.  There is enough energy in the atoms of a dime to remove New York City from the map. It doesn't mean we can hook a dime up to a turbine.

            We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. -Albert Einstein

            by Plan9 on Thu Jan 26, 2006 at 01:15:51 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  There's always the Solar Tower project (none)
              The one being worked on by these guys:


              This strikes me as a practical solution.

              In any case, there's nothing (other than maybe enviromental reasons) to prevent us from scattering these things in the deserts of Eastern California or Nevada or Arizona.  If it takes dozens of these taking up fairly huge amounts of land, who cares?  Have you ever driven from LA to Vegas or Phoneix?  There's miles and miles and miles of nothing out there.

        •  Plug an electric one into the wall? (none)
          If the price of oil skyrockets, but there is plenty of electricity powered by non-oil sources (nuclear/wind/solar/hydro/(natural gas and coal, although those will run out eventually too)), then an electric car makes a whole lot of sense.  Or, as a compromise measure, a plug in hybrid.
      •  efficiency (none)
        Depending on a range of issues, and how much money your are willing to spend, and how you could mirrors and collectors in the area, solar electric can be, oh 10-20% efficient, and do not require fertilizer or water or harvesting to function. Biochemical conversion methods are far less efficient.
    •  Uranium myth (none)
      Nukes only (currently) work with enriched uranium.  Gotta have that raw fuel material... And it too has been exploited.  Easily mined deposits are no more.

      What's your source for this?

      All the reliable (i.e., non anti-nuclear) sources I know about state that uranium is plentiful.  The US hasn't bothered to mine its huge ore veins in recent decades because the uranium from Canada, S. Africa, and Australia has been so cheap.  Prospecting for new ore veins until just this past year was at a standstill.

      Furthermore, reactors can run on plutonium mixed with uranium oxide (that is, yellowcake that has not yet been enriched).  We have way too much plutonium around because it is a by-product of reactors and also makes up the pit of atomic bombs that are now being dismantled.  The best place to put the plutonium so that it does not go into bombs is in reactor fuel.

      We also have thorium.  It has been shown that reactors can transform thorium into reactor fuel.

      We also can turn to breeder reactors, which can create new reactor fuel.

      If we reprocess the large inventory of spent nuclear fuel we would 1)greatly reduce what is generally referred to as "nuclear waste" even though it remains 90% or so viable as fuel and 2)not have to worry about mining.

      Reactor designs exist that can transform "nuclear waste" so that again mining would be virtually unnecessary.

      In terms of energy density, nothing is denser than uranium.  One four ounce uranium pellet the size of your fingertip has the energy equivalent of
      --17,000 cubic feet of natural gas
      --1,780 pounds of coal
      --149 gallons of oil

      Nuclear energy can be used to make hydrogen as well as electricity.  A vehicle fleet could use electricity instead of gasoline.  Electrically-powered farm equipment could be used to make ethanol.  Trains now using diesel locomotives could use electric power.  The very high speed trains in France run on electricity made in nuclear plants.

      The cost per watt of nuclear power is now competitive with coal.  If the external costs of coal (its waste, which pollutes the environment and our bodies) were factored in, nuclear would be considerably cheaper than coal.

      We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. -Albert Einstein

      by Plan9 on Thu Jan 26, 2006 at 10:56:42 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The very first reactor (none)
        used nonenriched uranium.  Enrichment was years in the future.

        We do enrich, because it makes life easier, but power reactor enrichment is very different than bomb enrichment.

        There are a very small number of research reactors that run on bomb-enriched uranium.

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