THE END OF OIL, AND THE RISE OF DENIAL (6/3/06, rev. 9/10/11)
Ken Fischman,Ph.D., Lanie Johnson, M.A., and the Ancient Pathways Players
Climbing Hubbert’s Peak
Back in 1956, an oil geologist, by the name of L. King Hubbert, published an article in which he predicted that oil production in the U.S would reach its peak between 1970 and 1972, and from then on would decrease every year. Despite the fact that Hubbert was a respected scientist and that he presented solid evidence for his conclusions, he was derided, laughed at, or ignored by almost everyone in the oil industry. In 1972, oil production in the U.S. peaked, and since then it has declined every year. That, and not oil industry greed, China’s new energy appetite, or rebellions in Libya, is the main reason why you are paying over $3.00/gallon for gasoline and our country is dependent on foreign oil. By the way, my bill for heating and cooking with Propane went up 28% last winter. Did you know that natural gas production in the U.S. peaked way back in 1956, and has gone down every year since then? Other scientists have improved L. King Hubbert’s fact gathering, formulas, and calculations, and have extended the methodology he successfully used to predict Peak Oil in the U.S. to computer simulations of world oil production.
They have concluded that world oil production will peak within a few years, or has already peaked. Kenneth Deffeyes is a Geologist from Princeton University, and is one of the leaders of the Peak Oil movement. He has calculated that world oil production reached its highest level in November, 2005. It is in the nature of the oil industry that we only learn about such events after they have happened. Deffeyes, Colin Campbell, who is a Scottish geophysicist, energy investment banker Matthew Simmons, along with Roscoe Bartlett, who is a former engineer, and presently a Republican Congressman from Maryland, have been sounding the alarm. They have been derided, laughed at, or just plain ignored. It is only now, with the price of energy sky-rocketing, that they are getting any public attention at all. If you remember your history, the Greek seer, Cassandra, made dire predictions about the fate of Greece. She was laughed at too. But, she had the last laugh. Classical Greece is gone. You can visit the ruins of the Acropolis in Athens, if you buy your airline tickets now while you can still afford them.
The End of Cheap Oil
Now, you may wonder, why am I talking about oil at a workshop on ancient skills and beliefs? It is because the impending loss of cheap oil is going to profoundly affect the way we and our children lead our lives.
[enter stage L — a fairy, dressed in pink tutu, with a diamond tiara, and a wand with a star at its end – “she” is flippant and bubbly, and speaks in falsetto, kind of like Glenda the Good, from Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz]
“Hi, I’m the Tooth Fairy (TF) and I’ve come to tell you that there’s nothing to worry about. There’s plenty of oil left. All you have to do is look for it under your pillow!”
[KF] Hey, wait a minute! You’re interrupting a serious discussion. And you look ridiculous in that tutu. These people are here to learn important things that will affect their lives. Please do not interrupt us. [TF glares at K, petulantly, hands on hips ]
[KF] Now, where was I? Oh yes, even the phrase “oil production,” is misleading. Human beings have never produced even one drop of oil. It was all produced by Nature some 600 million years ago. More properly, we ought to call it “oil extraction.” The amount of oil available is, for all intents and purposes, finite (unless you want to wait around another 600 million years.) When it’s gone, it’s gone, and all the wishful thinking in the world won’t bring back a drop of it. The fact is, that the world is rapidly running out of conventional oil, and this fact is absolutely critical because our contemporary, technological civilization is organized around and totally dependant on cheap oil. This situation is being compounded because every year America’s appetite for oil is increasing. China and India’s economies are growing at 10%/year and are they running around the world, trying to lock up all the existing and potential oil and natural gas sources they can get their hands on. When demand increases and supply goes down, the law of economics tells us that the price will increase. My truck camper makes about 9 miles/gal of gas. I ‘m thinking of trading it in for a Prius.
[TF] Oh, yoo–hoo! I have an easy solution. You know, when children lose a tooth, all they have to do is put it under the pillow, and the tooth fairy (that’s me!) will come in the middle of the night and replace it with a dollar bill. Now, all you have to do is place your empty gas tank under your pillow and the Tooth Fairy will fill it up with oil made from Canadian tar sands, or Pennsylvania coal, or Ethanol from corn – better yet, we can fill it with Abiotic oils from the bottom of the sea of which there’s an endless supply! Of (course) no one’s ever seen it, but I am sure it’s there because we need it!
[KF] Now look here, you demented elf! You are interrupting a serious discourse and making a farce out of this. Leave this room right now, or I’ll Canadian tar-sand and feather you! [TF exits in a huff, stage Rt.]
Say Goodbye To Cheap Oil
Thank goodness were rid of that ridiculous person. Magical thinking will not help us. This is a rational society. Only a few years ago, the price of oil was 35$ per gallon. Now it is over $80. I predict that the price of oil next summer will be over $100 per gallon, and that the price will go up every year from now on. The high price of energy will profoundly change our lifestyles. The Global Economy, which is based on the ability to cheaply transport goods from one part of the world to another, will inevitably collapse. Economies will, of necessity, become localized, and we will have to depend on local food supplies. Everyone knows. . .
[Oil Fairy] Hi there. I’m the Oil Fairy and I’ve come to tell you that there’s plenty of oil around the Caspian Sea. And, we know there’s lots of oil under the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge without having even drilled test wells there, or ……
[KF] Great! Another idiot! Look here! If they started exploring ANWAR tomorrow and found oil, which is not certain, it would take at least 10 years to locate, drill, and build a pipeline to carry the oil down to us. Furthermore, even the most optimistic estimate of how much oil there is under those herds of Caribou, would supply U.S. needs for only 3 to 6 months. But, it sure would make a lot of money for Exxon, BP, etc. And maybe they can get Halliburton to build the pipeline.
[OF] But all I have to do is wave my magic wand and. . .
[KF] There is no such thing as magic! You can’t make something from nothing. Why don’t you go away and stop bothering us with your wishful thinking? [TF stands petulantly, hands on hips, & glares at KF] They have looked everywhere, and there are no hidden sources of oil. Not only that, but there is no adequate substitute for oil. You can’t stick a nuclear energy plant in your car and make it run, or put one in a Boeing 747 and make it fly either. Too heavy. You can convert coal to gas, but the more coal you dig, the more expensive it will be to get to, and how are you going to transport that heavy stuff from Pennsylvania to Florida? And up and up will go the costs. As for corn-derived Ethanol, it is the latest fad of the technofixers. At least two studies have shown that more energy has to be put into the process than can be gotten out of it. Corn is a very energy- demanding crop. It will make a lot of money for agribusiness, but it is not the answer to our energy problems. Not only that, but every acre put into production of corn for Ethanol, is an acre taken out of the production of food in a country where the number of food-producing farms is shrinking every year. If our government is so worried out our dependency on foreign oil, how vulnerable will we feel when we become dependant on foreign-grown food?
What Is Oil Good For?
The first thing people think about when you mention oil is fuel – energy – energy to drive your car to work, to fly by plane to the West Coast in order to spend Thanksgiving with your far-flung family, energy to push that diesel locomotive up the track, bringing cheap stuff to Wal-Mart. But energy needs are just the tip of the iceberg. Where do you think your anti-allergy pills come from? Your antibiotics? Most medications are synthesized from oil. By the way, what do you think is the most expensive kind of building to construct and maintain? (pause) Anyone? No, it’s not the Pentagon. It’s your local hospital. By the square foot, by the little white pill, by the 2 million dollar MRI they just installed. A single Cancer treatment costs almost 10 thousand dollars. . . . . It is by far the most expensive structure around. What do you think will happen to your medical bills when oil hits $100/barrel? $200/barrel?
By the way, what do you think plastic is made from? Take a wild guess. …. Hey, Oil Fairy, do you know how much plastic there is in your house? your refrigerator? your automobile? I’ll bet even your magic wand is plastic. Another question for you fairy! Do you like bananas in your cereal for breakfast? Now, don’t tell me you just wave your wand and make them appear! Do you know where that banana came from?
[OF] Timorously – Ecuador?
[KF] How many bananas are you going to eat when the cost of transporting them from Ecuador doubles? triples? How much of the food that you buy in Safeway is grown within 100 miles of here? Very little, but food distribution patterns are going to have to change or we will not be able to feed over 320 million Americans. Bioregionalism anyone?
[OF} I think I’ll leave . The batteries in my magic wand seem to have run down. I wonder what batteries are made of? Goodbye.
[KF] Good riddance! Whew! We are finally rid of her! Now, where was I? Oh yes, Let’s talk more about food. After all, it is your ultimate energy supply. Is your food cheap? plentiful?. . . What is the fertilizer that makes that food grow made from? Anyone?…. How about the pesticides and herbicides that they use on farms? What are they made from? …. How much oil did they expend to manufacture that tractor, and the other mechanized equipment found on most farms today? And, how much energy is used to run them? How much fuel was expended to transport food from Imperial Valley, California to your dining room table last night? How much plastic is there in your computer? And how much oil did they use to dig up, refine, and transport all those rare materials that give your hard disk that prodigious amount of memory the computer companies boast of?
And that’s just the beginning. What about – – – – – – – – – – –
[Big rumpus –Technology Fairy enters – stage L]
[TF] Hi – I’m the Technology Fairy, and I’ve come to save you! Not to worry! I’ve got a technological fix for everything! Just look under your pillow!
(someone in audience shouts – “Hey “Techy,” you’re cute”)
[TF] I’m not only cute, I’m clever. Hey, do you know what we can do to squeeze more out of an oil field? I can drill on a slant to get oil from under nearby mountains or drill down a mile with offshore drilling rigs that are already a mile below the ocean surface.
[KF] (exasperatedly) It’s already been done, and you know what happened. Remember BP and the Gulf oil spill?
[TF] Oh – well, I can pump water into the wells to push up more oil.
[KF] Been there – done that. Do you wonder why the Saudis are doing it now? Can it be that their oil fields are drying up? It adds to the cost, and eventually it messes up the entire oil field.
[TF] Oh – well, I can explore other parts of the world, using high-tech equipment, and find loads of oil.
[KF] Until 2006 oil companies had been spending less money every year on oil exploration. Only now, with the price of oil soaring, has it become worthwhile for them to put money into exploration. The reason for that is that they have almost certainly already found all the great oil fields on Earth. There is no other place to look for large amounts of oil except the Arctic Ocean and the South China Sea, and that’s why China, Japan, Taiwan, and Vietnam have recently been threatening each other over that area. I don’t think that superpowers fighting an oil war is going to help lower the cost of oil.
[TF, getting surly] Yeah, well how about all those hydrogen-driven cars? – clean, no pollution, free energy. yippee!
[KF] You know, it’s a funny thing. Nobody talks about where they’re going to get all those H2 atoms. You see, they’re going to pull them off of – guess what? …. oil and natural gas. That’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul. You see, H2 cars are not energy sources. They are really just big batteries, and where is all that infrastructure to transport the H2 atoms to where they can be pumped into cars? It’s non-existent.
[TF] Boy, what a spoil-sport you are! Hey – they can get the H2s from water. Any school kid knows that! We’ve got plenty of water. All you have to do is stick a positive electrode in one end of a water tank and a negative one at the other – voila – (that’s a French word, you know!) you’ve got all the H2 atoms you want – just like we did in high school science class!
[KF] You forgot one little thing – the electric current to do the job. You will use more energy to liberate those H2 atoms than they will generate. That’s a good way to go broke -– energy-wise.
[TF] Well, what about all that Liquefied Natural Gas from Africa?
[KF] Listen, speaking of energy, you re wasting ours. What’s next? Are you going to invent a perpetual-motion machine? Get lost, will you! – First, they must transport the LNG at -260° F in tankers. Then, what do you do with it? They will need to build special ports to receive LNG, and special facilities to store and transport it throughout the United States. They will have to build an entirely new infrastructure throughout the country, and where will the trillions of dollars come from to build this in a country that is already in over $3 Trillion in debt? Do me a favor Technology Fairy. Get lost! Put an egg in your shoe and beat it!
[TF] Well, if that’s the way you feel about it, go drown in your misery. What a grouch! I have a million ideas of how to get more oil. What about all those Tar Sands in Canada? Maybe there’s some on Mars. There’ll always be a technological fix right around the corner. Off I go to find one. Don’t worry – be happy. La De Dah De Dah – – – – – – – – [exit stage R]
[KF] Well, I sure hope we’ve seen the last Fairy.
[voice from audience –“Don’t you bet on it”!]
[KF] The end of cheap oil will obviously have profound effects on our lives, both upon our economy and our social structure.
The Great Denial
There are two other things I would like you to think about coming out of this discussion – myths and psychology. Most people do not think that our modern, technological, rational culture has any myths. Myths are for ancient Greeks with their Olympian Gods and for African witch doctors, and Siberian Shamans. How many of you think that our culture has any myths? – – – – - Good. We just talked extensively about two of them. Can you name them for me? …. 1. The resources of the Universe are inexhaustible. i.e. the Horn of Plenty myth 2. There is a Technological Fix for everything.