Greenies despair!

Peak Oil was a false summit


If you’ve done any hill walking, you’ll know the problem.  You walk up towards the peak in front of you, expecting to find a panoramic 360O view of the terrain, only to find a new and higher hill ahead.  It was a false summit.  And I’m afraid that “peak oil”, touted by the Green Lobby as the ultimate justification for moving to intermittent generating technologies, is a false summit, too.

Back in 1968 we had Paul Ehrlich, in his best-seller “The Population Bomb”, telling us with great confidence and authority that food, and other resources including fossil fuels, would run out in the last century.  He was wrong, but the idea refused to go away, and it became fashionable to talk about “Peak Oil”.  After all, the world is finite, so resources like oil must be finite, so if we keep using them, they’ll run out.  QED.

The logic is unassailable, but the time-scales need a new look.  And we should broaden the issue to fossil fuels generally, not just oil, since (A) in principle, any fossil fuel can be used as an energy source; and (B) the Greens hate all fossil fuels, because they all create CO2 emissions.

Like the false summit of the hill walkers, Peak Oil (or Peak Fossil Fuel) just keeps receding.  We have the shale gas revolution in the USA which is transforming US manufacturing, and has resulted in US gas prices dropping to a fraction of those in Europe.  We have the report from the British Geological Survey  (in Keyworth, Notts, in my East Midlands Region) indicating that shale gas resources in the UK are much larger than previously thought.  There is likely to sufficient accessible gas for decades, perhaps centuries, of current consumption.  The Bowland Shale formation in the North West of England is said to be three times thicker than the vast Marcellus field in the USA, suggesting not only large volumes of gas, but relatively efficient extraction possibilities.  There are new discoveries everywhere.

Just now large fields in the Eastern Mediterranean, for example, are being explored. The shale gas just keeps coming.

The shale gas revolution in the US has had an interesting side effect: there is a large amount of low-cost American coal being freed-up as US generators switch to shale.  Much of this coal is coming to Europe, where coal use is increasing, despite the green posturing of the European Commission.  Both Germany and Japan, in the aftermath of the Fukushima incident, have foolishly decided to close their nuclear fleets.  In my view, both countries will be forced to re-consider.  But in the meantime, Japan is adding new coal capacity, and Germany is building or refurbishing as many as twenty-five coal-fired power stations.

But it gets better.  US shale gas is an old (or at least a mature) story by now.  The hot news on the block is that shale oil is also being extracted,  and — cue astonishment — US oil production is likely to exceed that of Saudi Arabia by 2020.  Just a few years ago we expected the US to depend increasingly on imported oil, driving up global prices.  Now the tables are turned, and the outlook for oil prices is much more positive.  There is, however, a geo-political down-side.  If the USA no longer needs oil from the Middle East, it may be less inclined to keep a naval battle-group in the Gulf.  Europeans who still depend on Saudi Oil may have to look to their defence capabilities.

Then beyond shale gas, we have methane hydrates, which on some estimates are equivalent, in energy terms, to all the known reserves of all other fossil fuels in the world combined.  “Peak Fossil Fuel” has disappeared over the horizon.

This new reality knocks the bottom out of the EU’s (and the British government’s) case for intermittent technologies (or “playground technologies”, as I like to call them).  In reality, there is no economic case for wind and solar, but attempts to justify them only appear to work if you make eye-watering assumptions about future increases in fossil fuel prices.  It’s looking increasingly unlikely that such increases will happen any time soon.

I’ve used it many times, but I don’t apologise for repeating the metaphor: the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones.  It ended when we developed better technologies.  And the same will be true of fossil fuels.

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5 Responses to Greenies despair!

  1. I thought you might also find it interesting that the U.S. Department of Energy has stated that hydro fracturing does not contaminate underground fresh water sources.

    This news story also includes additional links for those who want to read up on the study by the Department of Energy.

    I always appreciate your work Roger!

  2. Neil Craig says:

    Beyond these, or probably even before we get to hydrates, is oil manufactured by modified algae. Since it needs only sun and fertile water, like sea water, that is a renewable resource. Nuclear and solar power satellites are also good for the lifetime of the Sun.

  3. Richard111 says:

    You might find this of interest Roger. Seems oil does not come from fossils.

    Click to access Paper26.pdf

  4. Joanne Warren says:

    In view of this Roger, what do you make of this article in the 18th May New Scientist by Jochen Flabarth President of Germany’s Federal Environmental Agency who claims that Germany has not and will not miss the shut down nuclear plants (1/3 of capacity) and will be able to phase out fossil fuels as well due to the use of renewables. This is apparently part of their “Energiewende” and a rational move. He says in a 2010 study his Agency showed that Germany could source all of its electric energy from the sun, wind or water! He makes various other claims which I will let you read.

  5. Mike Stallard says:

    I have just been staying with people who are very much against fracking. This is their case:
    1. Fracking is very dangerous. It pollutes the water, causes untold environment damage and is provided by Big Oil (which is a BAD).
    2. It is anyway unnecessary because solar and wind power will do the job much more efficiently and much more cheaply.
    3. Anyone who disagrees is in the pay of Big Oil (which is a BAD).

    Week after week, you contradict these sorts of people. But after just one excellently arranged “middle class protest” the whole fracking operation comes to an end.
    (PS for them America is a BAD so any evidence from there is tainted anyway. The US is the Home of the terrible Hypermarket Monster, the den of Globalisation and, worst of all, it is the place where Grendel (BIG OIL) hangs out.

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