Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Knocking peak oil

A great opening paragraph leads to an interesting discussion. From the FT's Energy Source:

We’re not averse to peak oil around here - in fact many of our favourite energy writers are peak oilists.

For some, the phrase provokes an image of mad survivalists, but the peak oil debate is really much more nuanced than this: will there be a peak or a plateau? Will there simply be a gradual shift towards higher energy prices (which is arguably already under way), or will prices shoot up quickly enough to have catastrophic consequences for those who are ill-prepared?

And above all, it’s a debate about timing: when will it happen, irreversibly and definitively?

But something has always bothered us a little about it. It’s not the technology argument (oil extraction techniques are advancing all the time, therefore the peak/plateau keeps getting extended), and it’s not the economic argument (we will simply adjust to higher oil prices, because that’s what economies do).

No, it’s this: is declining oil the most important issue here? John Kemp says no. Peak oil, he reckons, is ‘the right answer to the wrong question‘.

He points out a few well-known facts: fears of peak oil are almost as old as the oil industry itself; US production peaking gave a big boost to the peak oil argument, as did, more recently, decline in Mexico’s supergiant Cantarell field. At the same time, he says, the recent huge natural gas finds should give adherents of the Hirsch report pause for thought....MORE