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73 GAO Peak Oil Thread - The Oil Drum


GAO Peak Oil Report Thread

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[Update by Leanan] The long-awaited GAO Report on Peak Oil , courtesy of EVWorld [EVWorld link replaced by official GAO link.]

Much more under the fold.

[Update by Prof. G] Here's a link to a video of Matt Simmons discussing the GAO report on CNBC, peak oil, and the ramifications from yesterday (7 mins). This is a very important video for those learning about peak oil, it's balanced and it's a great primer!

The report also got a mention this morning on WaPo's Politics Hour.

Arlington, Va.: You probably won't take this question, because its not on "the list," but I'll ask anyway hoping that someone will look into it and maybe we'll see some follow-up someday. There is a press conference today by Reps. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.), between 11:30 am and 12:00 noon in HC-9 of the Capitol to discuss the release of an embargoed GAO report. The report will reveal the United States is particularly vulnerable to and unprepared to respond to severe consequences from an significant disruptions to world oil supplies from peak oil and other above-ground political and economic factors, which are viewd as an increasing risk. Some very real questions are how "severe" the consequences are and what "increasing risk" means -- and why no mainstream press will cover this.

Lois Romano: I can't tell you that the press won't cover it. It certainly sounds like a story the way you have described it.

What list??

[Update by Super G] Coverage by the AP, Energy Bulletin, Green Car Congress, the WSJ Energy blog, Yahoo, and Salon.

UPI: GAO: Lack of clear policy on peak oil (via Energy Bulletin).

[Update by Prof. G] Congressman Bartlett will be leading a Special Orders tonight between 4:30 pm - 5:30 pm Eastern (it's going to be on CSPAN at some point, not sure when...) to discuss the release today of the GAO report about peak oil.

A most interesting chart in the GAO report is on page 13. It shows estimates of the timing of peak oil, according to 21 studies reviewed by GAO.

Ten of the 21 studies say that peak oil will be reached before 2020, and no later. Four additional studies say that peak oil may be reached before 2020, or sometime later. Seven of the 21 studies say peak oil will be reached after 2020.

I could be wrong about study (n), it's hard to tell if the date for that one is supposed to be 2020 or 2025.

Seven of the 21 studies say peak oil could be now.

Here's the chart:

And here's the key:

This appendix lists the studies cited in figure 5 of this report.

(a) L.F. Ivanhoe. “ Updated Hubbert Curves Analyze World Oil Supply.” World Oil. Vol. 217 (November 1996): 91-94.

(b) Albert A. Bartlett. “ An Analysis of U.S. and World Oil Production Patterns Using Hubbert-Style Curves.” Mathematical Geology. Vol. 32, no.1 (2000).

(c) Kenneth S. Deffeyes. “ World’s Oil Production Peak Reckoned in Near Future.” Oil and Gas Journal. November 11, 2002.

(d) Volvo. Future Fuels for Commercial Vehicles. 2005.

(e) A.M. Samsam Bakhtiari. “ World Oil Production Capacity Model Suggests Output Peak by 2006-2007.” Oil and Gas Journal. April 26, 2004.

(f) Richard C. Duncan. “ Peak Oil Production and the Road to the Olduvai Gorge.” Pardee Keynote Symposia. Geological Society of America, Summit 2000.

(g) David L. Greene, Janet L. Hopson, and Jai Li. Running Out Of and Into Oil: Analyzing Global Oil Depletion and Transition Through 2050. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Department of Energy, October 2003.

(h) C.J. Campbell. “ Industry Urged to Watch for Regular Oil Production Peaks, Depletion Signals.” Oil and Gas Journal. July 14, 2003.

(i) Merril Lynch. Oil Supply Analysis. October 2005.

(j) Ministére de l’Economie Des Finances et de l’Industrie. L’industrie pétrolière en 2004. 2005.

(k) International Energy Agency. World Energy Outlook 2004. Paris France: 101-103.

(l) Jean Laherrère. Future Oil Supplies. Seminar Center of Energy Conversion, Zurich: 2003.

(m) Peter Gerling, Hilmar Remple, Ulrich Schwartz-Schampera, and Thomas Thielemann. Reserves, Resources and Availability of Energy Resources. Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, Hanover, Germany: 2004.

(n) John D. Edwards. “ Crude Oil and Alternative Energy Production Forecasts for the Twenty-First Century: The End of the Hydrocarbon Era.” American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin. Vol. 81, no. 8 (August 1997).

(o) Cambridge Energy Research Associates, Inc. Worldwide Liquids Capacity Outlook to 2010, Tight Supply or Excess of Riches. May 2005.

(p) John H. Wood, Gary R. Long and David F. Morehouse. Long Term World Oil Supply Scenarios. Energy Information Administration: 2004.

(q) Total. Sharing Our Energies: Corporate Social Responsibility Report 2004.

(r) Shell International. Energy Needs, Choices and Possibilities: Scenarios to 2050. Global Business Environment: 2001.

(s) Directorate-General for Research Energy. World Energy, Technology and Climate Policy Outlook: WETO 2030. European Commission, EUR 20366: 2003.

(t) Exxon Mobil. The Outlook for Energy: A View to 2030. Corporate Planning. Washington, D.C.: November 2005.

(u) Harry W. Parker. “ Demand, Supply Will Determine When World Oil Output Peaks.” Oil and Gas Journal. February 25, 2002.

(v) M.A. Adelman and Michael C. Lynch. “ Fixed View of Resource Limits Creates Undue Pessimism.” Oil and Gas Journal. April 7, 1997.

AFAIK, several of those are note original & independent estimates, but rehashes of each other, based on the same USGS inflated OPEC data.

I think they would have done the estimates section a more truthfully, if they had included only separate, original methodology studies there.

Then again, was truthfulness or "calm down, it's 30+ years away" their goal :)

Am I missing something, or has the Lynch 1997 study ("v.") been left off the chart?

The report has a footnote that the conclusion of study "v" (Lynch) was that timing for peak oil was "unknowable". Kind of hard to put that on the graph!

Following up on our thread the other day, what if we average these dates? I tried eyeballing and averaging the midpoint of each of the ranges, got about 2024 for the year of the peak. If we take out the two extreme optimistic ones that center at around 2070, that brings the average in to 2019; however that may be a little pessimistic because it is taking estimates of "after 2020" and "after 2030" as just being those dates, 2020 and 2030.

The bottom line is that averaging the experts puts us around the 2020 time frame. Pretty far out compared to most opinions around here, but then this is a self-selected group. You can find similar groups on every controversial issue, convinced that their own opinion is right and insisting that the expert consensus is either mistaken or a case of outright disinformation.

Halfin: Every day that passes without global crude supply topping the monthly peak set in 2005 lowers the credibility of the distant forecast peaks. IMHO, a Vegas book would give heavy weight to the fact that prices are high and oil supply is stuck at the 85 plateau. These studies quoted have different agendas which have nothing to do with accurately predicting the date of peak oil, which lessens their usefulness, IMHO.

Nice report from the GAO, and like most reports from the government, it is 5 years behind. We already know everything in the report. "The future of when peak oil happens is uncertain" - that took a lot of study to say, ha ha ha. The end of the world is uncertain too. We must recognize that peak oil is certain, and start doing something productive instead of trying to calculate the exact date. We are losing precious time every day that goes by. We are wasting money on wars, exotic, unrealistic plans, and other political B.S. instead of spending on a real solution. Teach everyone how to grow food in their yard so they won't starve. Learn how to live without cars and planes. By the time global warming heats up by 1 degree, we will be out of oil. The earth can protect itself. Go back to nature.

Nowhere is Now Here!

From the chart, we can derive a probability density function:

Below is the cumulative density function (cdf):

There is 5% of chance (F05) that PO data < 2007, 50% of probability that PO data < 2034 (F50) and 95% of probability that PO date < 2114 (F95).

Nice work! I'll repeat the reference to the survey paper on the advantages of combining forecasts:

Abstract: Considerable literature has accumulated over the years regarding the combination of forecasts. The primary conclusion of this line of research is that forecast accuracy can be substantially improved through the combination of multiple individual forecasts. Furthermore, simple combination methods often work reasonably well relative to more complex combinations.

To me, this clean, simple averaging approach is far more likely to be a good guide to the truth than Stuart's efforts to read the tea leaves of every jog and squiggle in the Saudi production function.

Thanks for the article, it's a good reference.

Note that the maximum likelihood derived from the pdf above is between 2012 and 2017.

Right tool, afaik, but GIGO.

Look at the data going in.

If they had included all the CERA/IHS/USGS rehash studies, they could have pushed the probability of <2034 to near zero.

What we need to feed is:

- independent (i.e. done without other studies data)
- different methodology (e.g. bottom up, HL, economic, loglets, whatnot)
- credible (i.e. now back of the envelope calculations)

...studies. Also, for balance measure, we would probably need also to include some earlier estimates that have been proven wrong (too early), because it is likely that some of the other late peak estimates are wrong too (assuming somewhat normal distribution, even if tailed).

Then we MIGHT get some useful data. Perhaps. Agree?

Sounds like a plan. I'd love to see that done.

IMO, exactly right SamuM. A mean calculated from results produced with such disparate methodologies, has little value. Many of the studies (e.g. CERA) use data or assumptions that are demonstrably incorrect, or use methodologies that are irrelevant. Such results should be excluded from any mean that is calculated. Even then, a mean is of limited significance as most Contributors who have done detailed analyses and leading commentators (e.g. westexas) seem to be homing in on a narrow window of "nowish" to 2010.

The most interesting thing about this, is that it raises awareness of this probability amongst the MSM. It will be interesting to see how this develops and its effect on oil prices (now towards $66), esp. combined with Iran's antics with the captured sailors. It's almost as if they are trying to stir up antagonism and strengthen excuses for an attack later this year.

I don't necessarily agree that you want independent data in this kind of averaging. If many experts agree with a particular line of analysis and write papers supporting each other, then it makes sense to take the fact that that is the widespread consensus into consideration. Anyone who fails to recognize that near-term Peak Oil is very much a minority view is deluding themselves. The averaging process should reflect that reality.

Always with the sexy graphs... :o)

Is it possible to redraw the pdf/cdf charts in 3D with depth representing which underlying data set was used (USGS, etc)?

In other words the analysis is too flat, equally weighting all the studies.

Great way to look at the data! I question your methodology a bit though. Shouldn't the forecasts spread over mutiple years only contribute a fraction to each year in the PDF? The way you plotted it, the total area in the plot represented by the studies with large ranges is disproportional to the area representing rest of the studies. Doesn't this overweight the studies with large ranges?

Note if you do the PDF/CDF the way that I suggested F05 is 2005, F50 is 2022 and F95 is 2053. I eyeballed the data off the chart so the numbers are probably +/- a year or so.

Can someone point me to a tutorial for posting charts?


You must first find a place to host your image (Google "Image Hosting" to find a number of free sites), then use the "img" tag. Here is the tag Khebab used for his first graph:

Note that if you are using Mozilla Firefox, you can select a section of rendered text and graphics and use the "View Selection Source" command to see the underlying HTML. You can use this to figure out how to do something someone else has done. You can do something similar in Microsoft Internet Explorer.

I don't think you can host an image at the Oil Drum unless you have special privileges (see "Personnel" block on the right-hand sidebar).

hmm... good question. What would be the weight then?

Each study has the same weight for each year (i.e. 1/18). A study with a large time span (e.g. 2005-2140) would be basically non informative because it would then affect each year the same way (i.e. it would simply raise the minimum probability floor). Note that I have not included the studies that are just saying "After 2030", If I include them I get F50 around 2050.

IMO, studies that are including shale oil should have lower weight for instance because there is a low probability that this source will affect the peak position.

Coincidence? Oil spiked at 12:00, was this when the report was released?

Probably not a coincidence.

Lot's of things are pressuring oil prices right now and it's on a "parallel track" to oil prices from last year (just lagging a little). Gasoline prices are also on a parallel track (leading last year's prices a little).

But the price of oil and of gasoline have come closer to their historical alignment that existed prior to July 2004.
Even MSN Money is talking Peak Oil:

"While there's no real consensus on the issue, many experts advise that global oil production has more or less peaked. While they sound spectacular when announced, new oil finds, at best, compensate only for the depletion of existing reserves."

Highlights of the report now at Energy Bulletin (in HTML):

Energy Bulletin

I think this report is real progress. It's an even-handed summary of the debate, recognizes that the issue is potentially very important, and says the US govt should be doing a lot more to reduce the uncertainties and respond despite the uncertainties. I think this is a huge improvement from the EIA AEO's and the like, which essentially have a "no worry" message. The message here is "Worry!" I also like that the various demand-side alternatives discussed are all ones worth discussing (no "rebuild the railroads"), and that the challenges to rapid implementation of any alternative are discussed in a reasonably balanced manner. I also liked the pervasive discussion of the fact that these things need to be thought of light of the global warming implications (they even used "global warming" instead of "climate change"!) I thought the arbitrage between food prices and gas prices implied by ethanol should have gotten more play, however.

This is much more important than the Hirsch report, because it's not a contractor-done "Opinion of the authors only" thing. A very credible piece of the government has just officially endorsed that this is a huge issue. (And thus that I haven't been throwing away my reputation for nothing these last two years, and I'm happy about that).

I don't endorse exactly where the center of gravity of the report is (My reading of the evidence is that we are more-or-less at peak already, but I also think adaptation is not going to be as hard as some people think). But despite that, just the legitimization of the debate is a big deal.

Re: center of gravity

I welcome the report. Worrisome excerpt —

Studies that predict the timing of a peak use different estimates of how much oil remains in the ground, and these differences explain some of the wide ranges of these predictions. Estimates of how much oil remains in the ground are highly uncertain because much of these data are self-reported and unverified by independent auditors; many parts of the world have yet to be fully explored for oil; and there is no comprehensive assessment of oil reserves from nonconventional sources. This uncertainty surrounding estimates of oil resources in the ground comprises the uncertainty surrounding estimates of proven reserves10 as well as uncertainty surrounding expected increases in these reserves and estimated future oil discoveries.
Not all predictions are created equal. The timing of the conversion rate of reserves is the important thing. The GAO has gotten off on the wrong foot here.

If someone says there are 4 trillion barrels out there, does that mean that the peak won't be in the near-term?


There are emotionally laden sea change moments when life as one knows it changes irretrievably. The pregnancy test is positive. The US Supreme Court throws the election to Bush. The biopsy reveals cancer. In what ways and how quickly ones life will change after such moments is unclear. What's clear though is that there is no longer any doubt that big changes are definitely coming.

I'd say that reports like the Hirsch report and the GAO report are rapidly building towards such a sea change event in media and public perception of PO: after which it'll no longer be will PO happen, it'll be when will PO happen.
I think that we're passing through this PO perception sea change now. Interestingly, sea changes are also occuring in other major areas, such as the global climate crisis, the US housing industry, the US Congress, and the Iraq war. Key societal elements are becoming fluid that were for a long time frozen.

Citizen, NGO, government, academia and business PO efforts should rapidly shift emphasis from sounding alarms to delivering solutions, otherwise what's the point. PO is winning the war of words, now it must deploy practical solutions. I'm reminded of what Gandhi allegedly once said, "If God ever shows up in India he'd better show up as a loaf of bread rather than the Word."


I agree we need to *deliver practical solutions.* And as a concerned citizen I have already begun to implement "practical solutions." However, the devil is in the details of what I and like-minded other humble citizens consider *practical* versus what the affiliated organizations you mentioned consider *practical.*

Lower down this page Bob Shaw, aka: tononeila offers 8 organizational ideas of his own, some that I consider (on the whole if not exact detail), not only practical but also probably necessary. Yet, I think that most NGO's, government, academic and business organizations as presently configured would not consider any such ideas as at all *practical*

Furthermore, as you note about the possible sea change now happening, the perception is still only one of slight degree: "it'll no longer be will PO happen, it'll be when will PO happen." That's precisely the wrong way to address this AFAIC.

Not only are there too many supra-organizations with inherent institutional reasons, all interlinked, and all structurally and socially arranged on life with oil, not without it, that they'll argue the *when* PO point and all the devilish details of *what* to do about it *when* (always later than now), that, more than likely, very little and too late will it happen to be *practical* as originally envisioned.

Despite the rising tide of awareness, it is still a slow rising tide of corrosion that is lapping at our shores. This PO tide is certainly sending out breaking waves of sentiment that are both sounding and appearing ominously closer on occasion, but unless there is a sudden and undeniable PO tsunami type shock wave, one that knocks us off our feet and sucks away a lot of our organizational and humanistic arrogance, I don't expect much from these fossilized organizations in the way of delivered practical solutions.

When it comes to "delivering solutions," I'm primarily betting on those that will of necessity arise from individual actions against most all of the present organizational ones that will be flogged. IMHO, most all of the solutions necessary to be of any real practical use will not come from the halls of academe, businesses, or governments as presently arranged, but arise from individual efforts fully cognizent of PO's vast ramifications while rooted to their home or regional base.

The sweeping organizational solutions that we could use will be seen as impractical, while those that are considered practical won't be enough or delivered as sold. In this, both irony and tragedy will have their way.

The solution will start with individuals. But individuals influence one another. People will see how their neighbors are acting and some of them will come on board. Finally, when enough people have changed, institutions will jump in. Of course, there will be some institutions that will work against every step of the process.

Why no "rebuild the railroads?"

Hi Beto,

There was a guest article on this. (I'd look it up for you, but am having perpetual problems w. this sort of things and still finding my place.) Just use the search function and "rail". Or, perhaps someone else will jump in here. Also, look up "Arthur Smith" and/or "Energize America". And see Alan Drake.

It's a good idea, IMHO.

This whole thing reminds me of the way that I do arithmetic now that I'm in my dotage: I add up a column of numbers three times and then take the average.

And here's the NASDAQ story:

US Auditor: Energy Dept Should Develop Plan For Peak Oil Era

The U.S. Department of Energy and other federal agencies need to develop a strategy to mitigate the effects of a peak in oil production, which studies show could occur by 2040, a federal oversight body said Thursday.

While there was a great deal of uncertainty over the timing of peak oil because members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries don't open up their crude reserves for audit, the U.S. would be one of the hardest hit by a such a peak due to the nation's dependency on oil for transportation, according to a report issued by the Government Accountability Office.

The study was requested by members of the House Committee on Science and Technology.

The theory of peak oil, which was first put forward by American geologist M. King Hubbert, holds that oil production peaks when half of the world's reserves are depleted. Once dismissed as a fringe theory, peak oil has gained popularity in recent years as oil prices surged.

could occur by 2040

Let's use the most optimistic date shall we?

Meta: Actually, using the most optimistic date, the line would be "should occur by 2040". "Could" occur by 2040 implies to an uninformed reader that world oil supply might rise indefinitely, infinitely, until the universe implodes.

Right. They could alternatively have said "could already have occurred."

Interesting report. A lot of the discussion revolves around reserve number estimates. Very few discussion about actual flow rates which is the bottom line of peak oil. The list of countries that have passed their production peak is getting longer and longer.

That's right. Here's what I said at

1. There is no attempt in this report to enlighten the reader to the difference between "reserves" (how much oil in the ground) and anticipated RATES OF EXTRACTION. The reserves fallacy quietly rules.

2. There is no mention of the problems of GROWTH. Future growth is simply assumed and not counted as part and parcel of the problem.

3. There is no mention that although EOR (enhanced oil recovery) accounts for about 12% of US production, EOR HAS NOT REVERSED THE DECLINE IN THE US.

4. Definite supply side bias. Albert Bartlett's ironic words quietly haunt me: "The faster we extract the oil and burn it, the better off we'll be."

5. Natural gas peak and decline is simply IGNORED--even in the section about GTL.

6. Any studies by the near-term peakers--Deffeyes, Campbell, Bahktiari, Jeffrey Brown, et cetera--are simply ignored in the body of the text (although, interestingly, Richard Duncan appears in one note).

7. I simply cannot get over the fact that natural gas supply decline in the us is IGNORED.

There is nothing here to incite interest or action, I'm sorry to say.

I was just about to say the same thing.

Glad you used the word flow. Peak Oilers should use the word "flow" rather than "production". "Flow" is much more visual. "Production" is a technical abstraction with certain degrees of separation from the phenomena being described.

I like the word "extraction", as it emphasizes that there is a certain pile of it there and we just draw it down. "Production" sounds like we make it (out of scratch), which ties too well to the idea that we can "produce" any amount we want, as long as we invest enough money in it.

Regarding the report, I've only read the summary bit, but I am very disappointed with them basically mostly saying that we need more research on the timing of the peak, and that if the peak turns out to be a bit later then no problem.

the choice of language reflects our cultural denial that natural resources are finite. I'd like to see the street poll asking average americans whether they think oil is made by humans. I'd bet > 20% people would say it is.


Production is more reminiscent of Hollywood fiction or something on Broadway...

or that scene from The Producers:

"I wanna be a producer
With a hit show on Broadway
I wanna be a producer
Lunch at Sardi's every day
I wanna be a producer
Sport a top hat and a cane
I wanna be a producer
And drive those chorus girls insane!"

That giant sucking sound of when you realize your oil milkshake is gone.

I like the slurpee analogy. As you suck on the straw you draw down the richer syrup and then you have to suck harder and harder to draw out the remaining syrup. Sometimes you have to wait until the syrup flows a little back to the mouth of the straw. Then there is more sucking noise and less draw.

Although it is merely an analogy, this reaches nearly Feynman O-ring levels of clarity when talking to a layman.

You're trying to get at the sweet sweet syrup. You can increase the pressure by sucking harder. You can pump water into it so that it washes the ice (at the expense of dilution). You can heat it so it comes out easier. Suck it down too hard by holding the straw at just one depth, and you're suddenly going to find yourself sucking air through ice, or with an ice chunk stuck in your straw.

The only differences are that ice melts and positive pressurization of an oilbody.

"That explanation sucks."

For those who do not share the same cultural background a "slurpee" is a summer drink in which fruity syrup is served with crushed, slushy ice. This is probably a 7-Eleven chain store term. It may be called ice-slush or something else elsewhere.

They are called Slush Puppies here in the UK.

And that is a perfect analogy to use on my non-technical friends, thank you.

Indeed, Maybe its time to switch from stressing "PO" to "POA" (Peak Oil Availability) or some such, in light of "Exportland" and other flow limiting factors...

Nary a mention of this report on either MSNBC or CNN web pages...

I can't say that I'm the least bit surprised.

I did get to vote whether Donald Trump would look better with or without hair though...

There is an interesting little flap mentioned on page 40 between the GAO and the DOE on environmental issues. The GAO stuck to its guns.

The report is now up at the official GAO site:

You can download an abstract and highlights, as well as the full report.

Congratulations to Congressman Bartlet

His untiring efforts are now rewarded. Peak Oil is now or soon will be in the consciousness of the American public through the multiple press releases (and the spike in oil price on the same day). Hopefully that same awareness will drift up here to Canada and into government.

I met him last year a couple times before our conference. The man is smart, and tireless (and I think hes in his 80s). He is a scientist and used to sell solar equipment and such in the 1970s. He comes across kind of goofy when you first see him on TV - but a heart of gold, knows the real issues, and a national treasure in my opinion.

I think you hit upon what is likely the most important benefit of an effort such as this (GAO report.) That is, a widening of the audience of those aware of the issue.

That a study as this was done as it was - relatively quickly, with limited scope (e.g., no natural gas) - guarantees that there will be holes. And yes, by trying to sample the widest possible range of studies some estimations were included that probably are misleading.

But again, the value of an official government report is that it (1) brings publicity, and thus (2) brings awareness of the existance of an issue to more people.

So when the same GAO issued this report last year....

Why is it that the audience didnt widen and to this day few American's have ever read of this EARTH SHATTERING deficit? More importantly nothing is being discussed in Congress to affect change. The status quo is demanded. The information we're supplying is not demanded. So when does a public substitute the status quo? I propose it's not until we're completely f#cked...more so than right now. Too bad the information's value will have declined to near zero.

First, what makes you think that that issue did not get airplay? There have been fairly continual, albeit low level, discussions on financial news outlets and blogs about the cumulative debt problem.

Put simply, to avoid the financial ruin that report covers would require Congress to change the way it does business, which is usually to spend and then spend some more. Anything that hints that Congress can not do business as usual is hardly going to get championed by caucuses of Representatives. Fiscal conservatives are a rarity in either party. Likewise the individual savings (or lack thereof) which is part of the problem.

But, and this is important, government and private deficits are old news. I have heard about public and private debt since I remember first reading newspapers or watching TV. However, "Peak Oil" is both more immediate and new (to most people), and has a small but vocal group of Congressmen who will try to make hay with this report. Don't discount the power of the gas pump - as gasoline prices soar Peak Oil will have a primed audience. Put simply, PO is more exciting, interesting, and immediate than discussing accounting truisms (that one can't run debts in perpetuity without having a financial collapse of some sort) that everybody sort of knows intuitively already.

Ministére de l’Economie Des Finances et de l’Industrie estimates peak oil will occur between 2010 and 2120. They probably released a hundred page report that essentially said "we have no idea what we are talking about"

I've only skimmed the report and read the comments here, but so far I'm disappointed, to say the least.

They quote the DOE as saying PHEV's will be here in 2014? Someone tell GM to push the Volt back four years.

All that emphasis on reserves, not flow. Tsk tsk.

They use Richard Duncan, the Olduvai Gorge guy, as a source? Holy cow.

I was hoping this report would turn out to be the wake up call for at least some in the mainstream. Instead it missed the mark by a mile.

I still predict that peak oil will have its mainstream coming out party in 2007, much as global warming did in 2006. Instead of Al Gore and AIT being the catalyst, this time it will be yet another price spike caused by tensions or a war with Iran and/or a hurricane and/or Saudi Arabia not being able to answer the call when the world rings them up for some more of that "voluntarily" withheld oil.

Someone tell GM to push the Volt back four years.

Somehow, I don't think that will be a problem.

Not so fast.

Read the link and see how committed Lutz and GM are to the Volt.

And BP was very committed to Thunder Horse, too.

This car promises to be CHEAP TO BUILD. So GM is serious about making the Volt happen. They have probably reached a limit with the battery technology which again probably was a behind the scenes appeal for more money and research to G.W. this week. They're leery since the shitstorm they got into from the "Who Killed The EV1" know it alls. Also Waggoner is tired of the crap he gets from the media about being "green" as if any other auto manufacturer is! Where they failed was killing off the Geo line to buy Hummer. I find it hugely ironic that the Geo Sprint was the highest mileage rated vehicle in the US at the time(mid '90's) of some of the lowest gas prices historically, inflation corrected of course.

FYI, GM is considering using A123Systems of Watertown, Mass. for the batteries for the Volt. They have already contracted with A123Systems and Cobasys to develop batteries which might be used in the plug-in hybrid version of the Saturn Vue SUV, due out as early as 2009. An article about this appeared in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago:

A New Battery Takes Off in a Race to Electric Cars

GM is just ranking by profit and choosing. Their most profitable vehicles are luxury SUVs so they work hardest to keep that going. Their stated reason for Volt is to bolster corporate image vs Toyota. So, just as you need to understand GM's use of lawyers instead of engineers at times, you need to consider their use of corporate brand managers instead of product planners at times. They do these as an alternative to less profitable product improvements.

a: "peak oil...coming out party in 2007"
b: "Saudi Arabia not being able to answer the call"

The Saudis won't let "a" happen because they don't want people to believe "b". the US occupation "illegitimate" and eventually create another "embargo".

The scientific approach of Simmons/TOD/ASPO won't win because politicians must maintain control -- "above ground factors" will be correct!

That's an interesting idea. Makes sense. I firmly believe that we will never call Peak Oil "Peak Oil." Instead, it will be a series of unfortunate, wars, terrorist attacks, etc, etc, all the way down the slope.

"an interesting idea"

Of course it's any interesting idea! It's the story of history!

Politicians are those guys who got an A+ in recess -- they won't let science and facts get in the way. They'll do anything to prevent the truth from being known -- to prevent the loss of perceived power.

Few (nobody?) here in TOD seems to get this. PO will never happen and CERA will be "correct". Folks here seem intent on inciting the public into panic -- which would only make things worse. This GAO report will do nothing.

The moment the tipping point is reached the new consensus will be the dogma. Thats okay if the direction is correct.

'PO will never happen' - you know, in a number of other places than America, nobody cares about perceptions, they care about reality.

In other words, when less oil comes out of the pipeline, there won't be much time or effort expended on explaining away the reasons, or even much attention placed on why - dealing with it will be the focus.

Generally, only a society drenched in marketing thinks that selling the sizzle is the most important part of the steak.

Hungry people know better.

I have no worries at all about 'reputation' or 'acceptance' of peak oil, but then, reality tends to be insistent. And it wins every discussion over time.

I believe that the Saudi royals will "care" that the marginalized portions of their society never become convinced that oil output is destined to dwindle forever (hence an embargo to attempt to control perceptions is likely).

The masses in SA must never have proof that the king has squandered their oil too cheaply to the West.

Your point is irrelevant to the issue of energy supply.

If peak oil comes along and we tip into decline than we have to run our world with less energy tomorrow than we have today.

If the politicians hide this fact by an embargo or war or other artifice, the reality is we have to run our world with less energy tomorrow than we have today.

The outcome is the same. A sharp reduction in liquid fuels. The modern world does not have a plan or economic model to deal with this at present. We need a plan to deal with reality not a cover up.

Suppose war breaks out in the Middle East, cutting off 20% of world oil supply. Western economies are hit even harder because they rely on imports, which fall by 40%. This causes a major world recession and further wars. After seven years, the wars are resolved and economic growth picks back up again. So the fields that were producing that 20% of oil supply have been rested for seven years, and the world has now learned to live with 20% less oil per year. In the mean time, CTL and oil sands projects were heavily developed, so eight years after the crunch, we have a glut on the market and prices crash. Wash, rinse, repeat.

The blame for the "energy crisis" would go to the wars, not the decline in production, and after the recession things would look pretty normal again. So for most people, and probably the history books, the problem was the wars. It really doesn't take a cover-up.

I think you miss the point of a world decline. Just because the U.S. isn't using as much oil doesn't mean some other part of the world will not be using ME oil. The ME fields are still going be pumped maybe just not at capacity. The fields will still decline, just not as fast.

With respect to other sources coming online. Without the oil exporting countries supplying importing countries with oil, the importing country's will burn through their own reserves even faster. So delaying extraction in the ME will only accelerate extraction elsewhere. This is even assuming that difficult oil can ever be ramped up to the daily extraction rate of conventiional oil.

The problem can not be solved on the supply side of petroleum only on the demand side. All roads lead to less oil available in the future than today. It can be a little bit less, a lot less or a cliff face less. The point about peak oil is the world is NEVER going to be able to pump more oil per day than we are now, or the very near future.

We need to invent an economy built on something other than oil and do it darn quick. This has been the challenge for 30 years but we haven't done anything about it to date voluntarily. I have little confidence that we can do it quickly (without a lot of pain) now that it is a necessity.

The WSJ's energy blog has picked up the report:

Prepare for Peak Oil, GAO Warns

Thanks Calorie, you beat me to it re: WSJ.

Also, as I just updated in the post: Congressman Bartlett will be leading a Special Orders tonight between 4:30 pm - 5:30 pm Eastern to discuss the release today of the GAO report about peak oil. It will be on CSPAN at some point.

Kudlow & Company on CNBC will be discussing the report (right now, 5:00 P.M. Eastern).

Matt Simmons is on:

"Fossil fuel era is waning."

"The best oil basin we will ever find is called conservation."

He did say that Saudi Arabia has lots of oil left to produce, but it will be very heavy oil and reservoirs like the Austin Chalk (high initial flow rates and very rapid declines). What they don't have left are the large, very high quality reservoirs that are rapidly depleting.

He said that the Cantarell crash is an incredible threat to the US--very serious possibility of oil shortages this summer.

I wonder if Canterell is the reason for the disproportionately lower crude stocks in the gulf states. (Mentioned in the last day or two.)


I asked yesterday if the current inventories in oil being lower could have been because of Canterell being in serious decline. Again, do you think that the refineries saying that they are down for repairs( gulf states )and not refining sufficient oil is in essence the fact that imports are down from Mexico?

IMO, the lower crude oil inventories on the Gulf Coast are due to the Cantarell crash. Pemex canceled crude oil deliveries to a refinery they co-own, and they have curtailed other deliveries.

The Kudlow & Company video is online:

(I had trouble with the video, in Firefox but if I clicked my mouse on the window bar and dragged and held, It played okay.)

(From the interview:)

Matthew Simmons:

We actually sadly have such a poor data reporting system that we won't know with any clarity that we've passed peak oil until about a year after the event, or two years when it's startlingly clear.

This is a passionate issue with me, because I've just spent effectively the last five years analyzing and digging into data and I applaud the GAO today for what they did.

I think that congressman Bartlett and congressman Udall need a big rousing pat on the back for basically beginning the most serious discussion we've ever had about the single issue that could actually threaten sustainable society.

And I believe, and I have for some time, that we are on the verge of actually replacing global warming by this term "Peak Oil".

It is not a kook issue, it's a reality, it's a physical reality, we have demand roaring ahead, supply faltering.

Peak oil has the ability (short term) to drive the long term response to global warming. No conflict here unless one believes in coal gasification.

GAO on Oil Shale —

The Green River Basin is believed to have the potential to produce 3 million to 5 million barrels per day for hundreds of years.

Given the current state of the technology and associated challenges, however, it is possible that 10 years from now, the oil shale resource could be producing 0.5 million to 1.0 million barrels per day.

Oil shale is not presently in the research and development stage. [??? - DC]

Shell Oil has the most advanced concept [in situ heating, with freeze walls] for oil shale, and it does not anticipate making a decision regarding whether to attempt commercialization until 2010.

Well! It's like baking a cake. Sink the heating elements into the ground and set to about 700 degrees fahrenheit. Wait 4 years. Pump oil. Tranport to refinery. Crack. Take gasoline to gas station. Pump gasoline into car. Go to Wal-Mart. Easy!

Bake & Suck

hee! now that's classic.

Hello TODers,

I was hoping the report would go into specific scenarios for mitigation that Congress could use for legislation.

Speculation follows:

1. Peakoil Outreach to fully inform the huddled masses. IMO, this would do much to reduce violence and increase cooperation at all levels. People would understand that Overshoot and insufficient resources is the problem-- the tendency would be less scapegoating and anarchic yells of 'Bring me his head!'

2. Funding of Asimov's Foundation for metered detritovore decline and biosolar growth. Full habitat/watershed ecosystem assessments and redrawing of functional infrastructure spiderwebs to reflect natural limitations; example: Colorado Watershed, Columbia River Watershed, Mississippi Watershed, and so on, instead of the non-useful 50 state boundaries. The application of predictive collapse and directed decline helps the move towards greater sustainability and reduces timeframe waste and mis-applied investments.

3. Encouragement of Legal Secession to jumpstart grassroot-to-toplevel reform. Cascadia, New Vermont Republic, etc, as opposite biosolar attractants to Hirsch's Fifteen Favored detritovore states. Full cessation of SuperNafta efforts--drive towards relocalized permaculture and school curriculums towards animal husbandry, soil education, composting and full recycling, etc.

4. Jumpstart towards 60-75% of labor force doing manual labor as proactive offset to declining FFs. Legislation mandating a specific % of natgas must be stockpiled as fertilizers to assist in paradigm shift, reduce burning in wasteful ways [ex: electricity for tanning salons], and to help encourage building of Eco-Tech shelters. Laws that would allow every ten neighbors to pool money to make one house the 'survival house' for all at crunchtime. This way the elderly and very young could retreat to this offgrid PV shelter when heat or cold is lethal; this one house would be the neighborhood source of hot water, cooking equipment, communications.

5. National call for 150 million bicycles and wheelbarrows, supporting tire, wheel, and ball-bearing factories, essential hand-tools. Full feasibility studies of surface spiderweb riding to augment mass-transit when underground infrastucture pipelines need replacement. Leverage human strength limitations by steel-wheel-on-rails for as many as possible. Recall that first railroads were inside coal & guano mines and human-pulled.

6. Bush should get the party started by calling for Victory Gardens again, then plowing the White House lawn into vegetable plots like back in the olden days.

7. Of course, a moratorium on growth and population increase goes without saying, emphasis is towards Japanese Edo Period and Jeffersonian living.

8. All of this must be done faster than the rate of scarcity to minimize violence. Nature will do its part; we can't stop that, but we can control ourselves to optimize Detritus Powerdown and Biosolar Powerup.

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

The economies of the Japanese Edo and a Jeffersonian system are completely contradictory. One is essentially feudal, the other capitalist. You can't have both at the same time.

Antoinetta III

Feudalism is the end state of free market capitalism

For sure, if they keep tightening the bankruptcy laws!!

Go brush up your history. Capitalism didn't fall out the sky - neither was feudalism swallowed by a crack in the ground.

Ah, this is what I was waiting for!

Associated Press has just picked up the story. It will now be published in multiple newspapers and news sites. It's already appeared at:
Houston Chronicle
Business Week

Report: Gov't needs plan for oil peak
by Alan Zibel (AP)

The U.S. government is in need of a strategy to minimize potentially dire economic consequences after worldwide oil production peaks and begins to decline, the investigative arm of Congress said Thursday.

Though experts disagree about when daily oil output will reach its maximum level -- or whether they have done so already -- the Government Accountability Office said in a report that most studies have found oil production will reach a peak sometime between now and 2040.

The report warns that, as the world's largest oil consumer, the U.S. is vulnerable to significant economic troubles, brought about by rising prices, if a peak arrives and no technology exists to replace petroleum-based transportation fuels. [More at original postings]

All I can say is go to YouTube and search for "Lawns to Gardens". It will take Pop-culture programming to keep people from freaking out when they can't afford to live anymore.

The time of debate is over, and now it's time for Americans to find the spirit that makes this country great.... entrepreneurs get off your asses and home owners convert your grasses!


I can't wait till Martha Steward starts showing soccer moms how to rip up their McMansion lawns and how to plant corn.

That would be worth watching :-)

HAHAHAHAHA thanks for that!

I would like to comment or make some observations on sections within this Congressional report as follows:

There is for some a belief that Western Governments must be aware of Peak Oil -must be preparing for it and might have something 'up their sleeve' in readiness: a techno cure or 'Manhattan Project' perhaps -the following report sentences dismiss this myth:

1. "Key alternative technologies currently supply the equivalent of only about 1 percent of U.S. consumption of petroleum products, and DOE projects that even under optimistic scenarios, by 2015 these technologies could displace only the equivalent of 4 percent of projected U.S. annual consumption. Under these circumstances, an imminent peak and sharp decline in oil production could have severe consequences, including a worldwide recession. "


2. "… there is no formal strategy for coordinating and prioritizing federal efforts dealing with peak oil issues, either within DOE or between DOE and other key agencies."

and (perhaps most boldly as a section header -page 35 as if to make the point really clear!)

3. "Federal Agencies Do Not Have a Coordinated Strategy to Address Peak Oil Issues"
(May bring back memories of recent Hurricane Katrina woes that occurred on a much smaller scale)

From the document I find the following statements worrying -succinctly what we in the West are effectively doing is writing what in the UK is diplomatically called a "self-cert mortgage" and in the US a 'liar' type mortgage on a global scale for our future (consider the recent sub-prime US mortgage debacle with the difference that 'civilization as we know it' is throwing the dice -not just some trailer-park bricks-and-mortar wannabe):

1. "Estimates of how much oil remains in the ground are highly uncertain because much of these data are self-reported and unverified by independent auditors"


2. "…companies wholly owned by various OPEC countries where the majority of reserves are located, are not subject to these filing requirements and their related liability standards. Some experts believe OPEC estimates of proven reserves to be inflated. "

Figure 10 on page 26 basically states that we are putting all our eggs into one OPEC basket. Thus a future failure to supply from OPEC would cripple us -sounds like a recipe for history repeating itself 1970s style. Do we really have such short memories? The growth in OPEC supply past 2010 in the figure looks like wishful thinking to me.

Fig 11: Looks less like a detailed analysis of chaotic real-world supply-demand parameters and more like some school-boy set of projections based on dragging an MS Excel x%/year growth tab to the desired future date… Based on current human growth rates each human will have just 1 square meter of available Earth based land each within 768 years, I know it to be true because my spreadsheet tells me so…Enough said…

This is perhaps the statement that gives the greatest comfort to any optimist:

"Specifically, using future annual increases in world oil consumption, ranging from 0 percent, to represent no increase, to 3 percent, to represent a large increase, and out of the various scenarios examined, EIA estimated a window of up to 75 years for when the peak may occur."

-Yippee! 75 years to play! But: Sorry? What was the 3% growth window timeline again I missed that one; I only got the optimistic 0% growth one and I'm still dancing but in a 0% growth subdued kind of way. Anyway, I can now relax. I have a 0% predicted growth rate in children so other people's offspring can 'shovel the sh*t' so to speak…

The rest of the report is biased towards transport which is the first sector to get hit bad due to the fact that 98% of US consumption is Petroleum/"Gas" based (boy that must cause confusion somewhere). SUVs are toast, Corn-Ethanol is a mirage, blah, blah.

Summary: If I where to give the report a mark -school teacher style- it would be 7/10 with some sarcastic teacher style comment like "must try harder" -that is must try harder to learn our tue predicament and convince congress that more needs to be done NOW to avoid hardship tomorrow whether it be in 5 years or 25. I sincerely hope to be proved wrong in the decades ahead with a well planned and thought out mitigation strategy by 'those in power'. As a UK citizen I would welcome an open and frank response in the form of a UK based report to the House Of Commons that dealt specifically with the issue of Global Peak Oil.

Nick Outram [ ].

As noted earlier CNBC has been fast and loose with the Peak Oil term in the last week or so especially Maria Bartiromo . I wonder if they got a little pre-notice on this report being released? My guess is less Yergin and more Simmons in the future on CNBC. This report has raised the windowshade of legitamacy for the MSM in th U.S. on Peak Oil. I anticipate and look forward to an even more engaged discussion on the mitigation thereof.
Down grade the report all you want I agree it ain't all that most peakers want but it is the most legitmate vindication to date of Peak Oil by the government. A step in the right direction lets see how it plays in the media and if anyone is listening. Will be interested to see what the WSJ has to say tomorrow. I wonder if the price for CERA just went down along with a lot of their underpants that now need to be changed.

Let's remember that even though there may be 75 years of oil remaining, the cold hard reality of peak oil is starting now. We can't expect to keep driving to Wal-Mart and watching American Idol for the next 74 years and then it suddenly all comes crashing down. It will be a gradual decline into social chaos.

Gee, does watching American Idol consume that much of our fuel?
What is the EROEI of watching American Idol?
I have got to do more research to stay up on these things....
Roger Conner Jr.
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

Indy: Lighten up. Nobody knows how this will play out. The suburban lifestyle is toast, but this is not the end of the world. As for "social chaos", look at New Orleans. That city has more "social chaos" than any city in NA and Alan from Big Easy absolutely loves the place (along with Brangelina) and has a great time. Life changes. If peak oil usage in the USA was so fantastic it wouldn't be highly coorelated with peak antidepressant usage (IMHO).

I'd just like to point out that significant parts of the city will never be rebuilt. In particular, those parts whose inhabitants found themselves in other far flung places with no means to return, ever.

While some will undoubtedly find joy and mirth in the city, I think as time unfolds you will see a very different city than of old emerge. The folks that could have been the leading cause of chaos have been, in a stroke of genius, divided and shipped out. Thus, no chaos and no need to fund a rebuilding effort sufficient to restore all the former inhabitants to their rightful place, New Orleans.

I think Matt's seceratary will be busy booking him into interviews with the networks next week.

flow rates replacing climate change, that is an attention getter.



The first of the two big shoes has now fallen. The long awaited GAO Report is now in the hands of the press and the public. I sit with my very own copy, now downloaded to my hard drive, trying to glean some useful information. First impressions? Mixed.

---The GAO Report is interesting, but in no way a breakthrough piece of work. The first thing I instinctively kept thinking was that this report could have been written in 1973, such is the lack of discussion of modern developments since those chaotic wild times. In fact, if one reads the GAO report, and is not aware of the developments since those days, we would believe that we have seen nothing but halcyon days since the 1970’s, and the world, in particular the technical world, is essentially unchanged.

This is most telling under the heading “Andvanced Vehicle Technologies”. One must assume that either (a) the report is intentionally very limited in scope, to the point of being a quick overview (as one would expect from a magazine article) or (b) the writers of the report are simply unaware of developments since the 1970’s.

Should one have expected discussion of, for example, the absolutely astounding radical developments in battery development? There is perhaps two or three sentences mentioning, with no details, lithium ion and lithium polymer batteries. At least four of the six major catagories of batteries now showing promise for electric and plug hybrid cars did not even exist in the 1970’s. What about advances in electric motors and controllers. Computers now controlling the drivetrain of a Toyata Camry Hybrid could have only been matched in power and sophistication by NASA in the 1970’s, and found on spacecraft.

Hydrogen, as always, is seen as only useful in a fuel cell. Therre is not even passing mention of hydrogen as a combustible fuel, and the fascinating developments by Honda of Japan and BMW of Europe in using hydrogen in combustion engines, and extracting it from water using sunlight. The report does not even attempt to disparage such ideas, seeming to be anaware they even exist.

Hydraulic and Pneumatic hybrid drivetrains are nowhere mentioned, although research is moving rapidly in these areas, with firms such as Ford, Eaton Corp. and government agenciy EPA taking part.

The report is written as though technology was somehow frozen in 1973 or so. Almost every idea mentioned in the report as “advanced” was already in developmental stage in those days.

The most amusing references are to hydrogen fuel cells: “Because hydrogen fuel cells are still in an early stage of development (!!!!), the ultimate cost of hycrogen fuel cells is uncertain...”, and, “hydrogen fuel cell vehicle technologies are still in research, development, and demonstration.” ASTOUNDING. The first self propelled mobile vehicles using hydrogen fuel cells was an Allis Chalmers tractor and a golf cart built in the early 1960’s.
This is surely the most long running “early stage of development” period in technical history.

---The “Back To The Future” feeling is even more pronounced in the area of alternative liquid fuels. To the delight to the detractors of ethanol, once more, it is declared essentially marginal at best, at least for a long time. But, likewise, so is Bio-Diesel, and pretty much on the same grounds. The cost will only go up as the pressure on the raw material to make it becomes greater, and faces full competition from the imput materials use as food stuff.
This leaves ethanol about where it was in the mid 1970’s, still lacking the infrastructure to make it work, still lacking heat content when compared to gasoline, and still absolutely dependent on cheap and abundent natural gas to provide the fertilizer and distilling.

There seems to be hope pinned on the prospects of Cellulosic ethanol, so at least we get one new concept born since the Jimmy Carter days, but hopes don’t seem high at least for awhile.

There is of course no mention whatsoever of bio-butanol, and it’s superiority as a finished fuel. Again, either the writers were unaware of it’s existance, or felt that it was not even worth the trouble of dismissing.

Likewise, research on production of algae as a potential fuel, bio technology contributions, nano technology developments in batteries and thin film solar which could be used to produce electricity for plug hybrid systems or produce hydrogen, methane fact, any type of “integrated approach” to electrification of transportation, recapture of waste or “confluence” design such as vehicles using plug hybrid in combination with advanced fuels (such as methane or bio-butanol in extremely efficient amounts) seems far beyond the scope of the writers of this report.

In several places, such as the discussion of natural gas vehicles, the issue of a natural gas peak and crisis seems to be out of the question (again, just as it was in the 1970’s, when it was assumed we had at least a century or more of “cheap and abundent gas”), and unless one assumes renewable developments in solar/wind to produce hydrogen, one must assume projections about hydrogen fuel cells are referring to hydrogen from natural gas.

----The possibility of radical changes in taxation/policy are avoided completely. Changing tax incentives to encourage rail/barge transport? Not discussed. Changing policy on offshore drilling on the OCS (Outer Continental Shelf), not discussed. How the DOE long term projections of fuel as cheap as we have it about now in all catagories makes any sense? Not asked.

So, what is the verdict? Is this a useful report? Well, it does bring the word “peak” into the mainstream. We must recall what a sensation the Hirsch Report was only a couple of years ago, and it was done “by contract” for a relatively minor section of the Department of Energy. The constructors of the Hirsch Report were actually perhaps a bit more technically astute than those people who created the GAO Report, but the GAO has credentials in a way that few government organizations do. So now, one should be able to discuss at least “the prospect of peaking and declining oil" without being dismissed out of hand. That is at least some gain. The issue is now out of the closet. But as for “mitigation”, the report seems to be telling us that all those things we talked about in the 1970’s? Well, they still don’t work....and as the old joke goes, Franco the dictator of Spain is still dead.

We can only now wait for the other shoe to fall. The (cliche’ alert) “long awaited” NPC (National Petroleum Council) report is due out in June, reporting on the status of world oil and gas supply. Who knows, it may shock the policy makers, the press and public by revealing that U.S. oil production has been in decline for three decades.

Let us hope we are not in for a “battle of the mundane” report, giving us breaking news that is now thirty five years old. Has anyone seen the pictures of the “Electric Chevette”? That’s right, a brand new 1978 all electric Chevette sedan....General Motors says these are the cars we will all see in every city in perhaps 4 or 5 years. The streets will be full of these efficient green machines by 1985 or so...

Thank you for your attention
Roger Conner Jr.
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

The most amusing references are to hydrogen fuel cells: “Because hydrogen fuel cells are still in an early stage of development (!!!!), the ultimate cost of hycrogen fuel cells is uncertain...”, and, “hydrogen fuel cell vehicle technologies are still in research, development, and demonstration.” ASTOUNDING. The first self propelled mobile vehicles using hydrogen fuel cells was an Allis Chalmers tractor and a golf cart built in the early 1960’s.
This is surely the most long running “early stage of development” period in technical history.

Second to controlled nuclear fusion.

Why has battery technology gotten better so slowly? Why has cellulosic ethanol gone nowhere for decades? Why don't we have fusion reactors? Why don't we have hydrogen cars? None of these are new ideas.

The answer is NOT that we haven't attempted enough research.

The answer is that the laws of physics are against them.

And finally, why haven't we come up with a fundamentally new energy or transporation idea?

Because there isn't one.

Microchips are the exception---in 1960 we were orders of magnitude in scale away from fundamental physical limits (i.e. the size of atoms).

"Why has battery technology gotten better so slowly? Why has cellulosic ethanol gone nowhere for decades? Why don't we have fusion reactors? Why don't we have hydrogen cars? None of these are new ideas. The answer is that the laws of physics are against them."

Which laws of physics? Those of thermodynamics don't apply.

Battery tech is enormously better, and good enough for PHEV's.

"GM is considering using A123Systems of Watertown, Mass. for the batteries for the Volt. They have already contracted with A123Systems and Cobasys to develop batteries which might be used in the plug-in hybrid version of the Saturn Vue SUV, due out as early as 2009."

"And finally, why haven't we come up with a fundamentally new energy or transporation idea?"

We didn't need to. Just improving batteries, wind and solar was enough. They have been around, but just not as cheap as fossil fuels. Now they are (though just barely), and falling in price quickly.

Anti-electric-vehicle campaigners like to use misleading comparisons, e.g. the size/weight of a battery to a tank of gasoline holding the same energy.

What they leave out:

  1. The gasoline's energy is before conversion losses, the battery's is after.  The difference is a factor of 4 or more.
  2. The battery largely replaces the engine, too.  Motors are so small and light, they are now being tucked away in wheels.

Add those factors, and the comparison is a whole lot more favorable to batteries.

Indeed, something like this DID happen in the 1970s: 1974, to be precise.

Hubbert testimony before House subcommittee

Mr. UDALL. My second question is, as one has been right when others were wrong in terms of the availability of petroleum, I understand from your statement here and other information that we peaked in U.S. oil production about 3 or 4 years ago, 1970 or 1971.

Dr. HUBBERT. 1970.

Mr. UDALL. Do you foresee, even with the best scenario, the most optimistic luck offshore, turning to oil shale, these kinds of things, do you think we will ever again exceed the rate of production, domestic production of oil from all sources that we had in 1970?

Dr. HUBBERT. I doubt it. The argument is made, wait until Alaska comes on stream, and all that. More than likely that will merely slow down the rate of decline. The amounts of oil that are postulated to be discovered off the Atlantic seaboard I am very, very dubious about. And so my best guess is, on the basis of the information at hand, that the peak of 1970 is the all time peak. And the other things that we would do would be merely to slowdown the rate of decline rather than to reverse it. I won't say it is impossible to reverse it, but I am very dubious that we can.

I must be dim, but I didn't notice that Rep. Mark Udall, of the current Congressional Peak Oil Caucus is the son of former Arizona Rep. Mo Udall, who is questioning Hubbert in the testimony above. He may be considering a Senate run. Let's hope he ends up following farther in his father's footsteps, and eventually runs for president.

[Edit - too many Udalls running around! Tom Udall is the son of Mo Udall who's in the Congressional Peak Oil Caucus. Mark Udall is the one who may be running for the Senate. They are both sons of Mo Udall.]

Actually, Tom Udall ( is the son of Stewart Udall (, Mo's brother who served as Secretary of the Interior under Kennedy and Johnson.

"Hydrogen, as always, is seen as only useful in a fuel cell. Therre is not even passing mention of hydrogen as a combustible fuel, ... extracting it from water using sunlight"

Burning the hydrogen is very inefficient compared to use in a fuel cell, hence the emphasis on the latter. The total cost of solar-hydrogen/storage will have to be much lower on a per-joule basis than solar-electric/battery for combustion hydrogen engines to be practical.

However, hydrogen is also (even more?) useful as chemical feedstock, and in stationary applications is probably much easier to store than electricity. So direct solar-hydrogen technology has merit and deserves continued investigation, which it is apparently getting. I personally feel it's a little longer shot than solar-PV/advanced battery, but we're in a situation now where we should try many potential solutions (to paraphrase, "no silver bullet, but a lot of silver BBs").

[Edit: Also, there could still be revolutionary advances to be found, especially since direct solar-hydrogen (e.g. through photochemistry) is apparently a relatively new field. I was objecting to the mere burning of *expensive* hydrogen; if renewable hydrogen does become inexpensive the picture is totally different.]

especially since direct solar-hydrogen (e.g. through photochemistry) is apparently a relatively new field.

Sunlight has been used to split water for at least 300 million years and possibly as long as 3.5 billion years. It's about the first thing that happens when harvested light energy reaches photosystem II.

Ah, I forgot to do a prior art search! Need to look out the window more often... However I was hoping for something a bit more direct; could some of the produced hydrogen be evolved as gas instead of as a component of NADPH? I'm weak on redox chemistry. It would be really cool to have plants which emit a H2/O2 mix, although also really impractical.

I recall the claim that photosynthesis is rather inefficient (3%), but is that efficiency measured with respect to the total chemical energy available to the plant, or only the energy available to us by harvesting it? The difference ought to be considerable.

" is that efficiency measured with respect to the total chemical energy available to the plant?"

Yes. Estimates for most plants are lower, in the range of 1% efficiency of capture of solar energy.

RE: biomass to liquids

The report covers the bases, however, there are 2 specific areas of contention that I have.

Appendix IV p.61 - potential production

"Some experts project biomass GTL to have the potential to produce up to approximately 1.4 million barrels-of-oil-equivalent per day by 2030."

BTL retains the potential to produce much greater volumes of LTFs than any of the liquid fuel options presented. A four-fold increase of existing U.S. ethanol production in 13 years via this production path, however, is perhaps a lofty goal sans a national peak mitigation strategy.

Appendix IV p.61 - readiness

"Biomass GTL is currently in research and development, nearing the demonstration stage. Experts project that biomass GTL production could be demonstrated at the pilot scale by 2012."

Untrue. BTL pilot plants have been running for years while ground has recently been broken in Georgia for what will become the world's first commerical facility - 10MMgy (x4) of ethanol from gasified wood waste.

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