Sunday, February 11, 2007

How long until we run out of oil, and why this isn't the most important question!

The Problem

President Bush said it. We are addicted to oil. I don't know if we're addicted, but we count on it for everything, and don't yet have a viable alternative. The problem is that the end of oil is coming sooner then anyone of us thought, and that end is coming soon! I always comforted myself by thinking when it runs out, then "we" will come up with another alternative to power everything we use. The question is going to be if we have enough time to come up with a solution. This isn't a problem that our grandchildren will have to face, it is something we're going to need to solve in our lifetime!

Recently while researching "green" issues online I came across the following website from which I learned much of the information contained in this article. I highly suggest you take the time to check it out as there is much more detail then I have mentioned there. The site is Life after the Oil Crash.

We all know it. Fossil Fuel is not a renewable source of energy. We've always known it. The question has always been when will we run out of it! Until recently no one really worried about it because we kept finding more and more oil and seemed that we had plenty for a long long time. Thing are soon going to change!

If you think of the planets oil as a whole you could picture the entire supply in gallons (or barrels). I always pictured this as an enormous jug of oil with a spout. When anyone was pumping oil out of the ground we were essentially opening the spout and letting some out. Thus reducing the total amount left in the jug.

The problem is this metaphor isn't really accurate to how we get oil out of the ground. Instead of a straight line graph which all of the sudden goes down to zero when the last drop comes out of the metaphorical spout, the worlds oil supply is better represented as a bell curve. The oil that we can get out of the ground will increase every year until we hit the peak, and then will decrease every year as the same rate it had been increasing.

This is immensely important because of how dependent our world is on oil! The problem is that every year the world as a whole increases the amount of oil it will need to quench it's appetite. So for instance if we need 100 million barrels this year, then we'll need 110 million barrels next year, and so on with no reduction. So basically every year we'll need more and more oil.

However because oil extraction follows a bell curve, once we hit the peak of production that is going to be the max that we can take out of the ground for any one year. Every year there after we'll be able to get about 8% less then the year before. As a planet we are close to using all of the oil that comes out of the ground each year all ready. So as our demand increases every year, and the supply decreases every year we are going to run into issues. It is estimated that at just a 5% deficit for the year our economy which is so dependent on oil will fall apart! This means oil will become so expensive that most people will not be able to afford it. Therefore oil companies will not be able to produce it. So even though there is more oil in the ground we'll essentially have run out because it is no long economically viable to bother with it.

Think of all the things in our world that count on a constant supply of oil that will fall apart. All of the food we eat is produced by farmers that run nothing but diesel powered equipment. It is then transported the store by diesel powered trucks. It is then put on shelves in stores that are heated by oil or natural gas. The lights are on in the stores so we can see by electricity which is usually produced by burning natural gas or coal (natural gas by the way also follows the same bell curve and is expected to hit its peak approximately 10 years after oil). We then drive to the store in our gas powered cars. We then take them home to our electric refrigerators. We then use our electric or gas stove to cook the food. This is just the food industry. Just going to work burns gas to get there. If you work in an office the lights and heat are on there. The computer you use uses electricity. It took electricity to run the plant where the computer was manufactured. Etc, etc, etc. You get the picture. Total collapse of our economy! The next depression is coming!

How long do we have?

The US hit it's peak around 1970. Every year since then we have produced less oil. Most other regions of the world have also hit their peak and are on the decline. The one region of the world that is still climbing is the Middle East, which is why you hear so much about it and we are so dependent on it's oil. The problem is that it is estimated that they are only a few years away from hitting their peak as well. Other recent oil discoveries which are considered "large" would only supply the US for maybe a year!

In 1999 Vice President Cheney said the following:

By some estimates, there will be an average of two-percent annual growth in global oil demand over the years ahead, along with, conservatively, a three percent natural decline in production from existing reserves. That means by 2010 we will need on the order of an additional 50 million barrels a day.
As an interesting note President Bush's ranch is completely off the power grid. Through advanced technologies the range is self sufficient creating it's own energies to sustain itself. Is this a coincidence?

There are additional oil reserves that are embedded in shale and other hard to reach areas however they again are not enormous reserves that would sustain us for very long. Even if they could extract them it might take more energy then could be created by the oil extracted. In other words even if it was financially beneficial for an oil company to extract this oil, they would burn more oil in the process of extracting it then they would extract.

A solution is needed and fast! At least a ten year window would be needed to convert everything over to a newer technology rather then oil.

Why haven't I heard anything about this before?

Think about the impact of this kind of information on the economy. It would fall apart now instead of after we actually hit the peak in the middle east. Until recently President Bush said there was no such thing as global warming, and there was no issues with oil. In his state of the union address in January he finally mentioned the existence of global warming for the first time. I also recently heard on the news that he is pledging that we reduce our oil consumption as a country by 20% over the next 10 years. Why all of the sudden are these things important to him?

Also, you have to wonder about the war in Iraq. Even if there were not issues in the region we would run out of oil. However are they just trying to stabilize the region so that we can extend the flow of oil a few more year and "buy us some time" to come up with alternatives?

What are the alternatives?

This is the the hard part. Lets say for instance that we could power everything by solar power. That would be great and seems like we have solved the problem. The issue is then deploying this new power. You could just buy all the solar panels that you need. However in the plant that makes the solar panel they are using oil energy to produce them, as is the trucking company that brings them the raw materials, and the postal service that brings the panels to your house, etc. Basically even if you could quickly find the answer to replacing oil, it would take years to deploy it into the economy. In the mean time what would we be doing for energy. This is why it is going to have such a devastating effect on the world!

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that we need a solution to the oil crisis that is looming much sooner then almost everyone thinks. Even if we do find the solution the real question is if there is going to be time to implement this solution before the world economy falls apart!

Future articles

Check back to the Saving Green Blog often as future article will cover some of the following:
  1. What the small silver lining to this problem is
  2. How the greenhouse gas effect ties into this problem
  3. Ways that you can help

As part of this blog I have promised to bring you a useful tip at the end of each post if possible. This is helpful hint #3.

Helpful Hint #3

Did you know that 90% of the energy used in a laundry wash cycle is used in heating the water? Try using only cold water as save 90% of the cost of doing a load of wash!

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