The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones

Roger Harrabin asks: Is ‘peak oil’ idea dead?

So here’s another worry – not that we have too little oil and gas, for the time being at least. But that we have too much if we want to enjoy a stable climate.

9 thoughts on “The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones

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  1. Another author who has no clue what he’s talking about. Yes, oil has peaked. ‘Peak oil’ and ‘oil depletion’ are two compeltely separate entities. Peak oil doesn’t mean that oil is “running out”. No peak oil theorist claims oil is running out, in fact quite the opposite.. peak oil theorists claim oil will NEVER run out.

    Why? Because oil takes energy to get. This is called EROEI – energy returned on energy invested. People are pointing to oilsands and shale as evidence against peak oil when in fact it is the energy input to energy output of these new “reserves” which confirms peak oil.

    The oilsands have a piddly 3:1 EROEI ratio, compared to conventional oil which was around 200:1. That means that for every 3 barrels of oil coming out of the oilsands, it took 1 barrel of oil equivilent energy to get those 3 barrels. Peak oil theorists claim oil will never run out because for us to run out of oil we would eventually need to extract oil at a negative ratio. Eventually it will require 1 barrel of oil to get 1 barrel of oil – at this point oil extraction will cease, not because there isn’t oil but because there is no economic incentive to get it. Peak oil is not oil depletion, and by the way.. stones didn’t fly airplanes or operate an industrial economy of which 7 billion people rely on. Apples and oranges bud.

  2. I should add, that the fears surrounding peak oil do not come directly from the resource, but rather from the exponential growth economy and it’s demands.

    Chris Martenson explains this topic very well:

    Its not about running out, its not about shortages (yet) – and when they do come they will be due to the unstable infinite growth economy failing. At a 3:1 ratio, we’ll never be able to raise economic growth to the points needed to paydown the 700 trillion dollar derivatives bubble. PEak oil is happening now, economies around the world can’t grow, and when they do the price of oil jumps up, gas price is on every frontpage (remember a month ago), and then shortly afterward another economic slump will begin. Just as it has now.

    1. Do not be an idiot. Any non-renewable resource runs out even when you have linear growth, or no growth at all or sometimes even declining consumption.

    2. Yes of course, but you miss Richard’s point, which is that there is some recoverable oil which cannot in principle be worth recovering.

      This is not necessarily true – it may be that petroleum is more valuable than other fuels, in which case it may be worth expending net energy to get it. But is is true that such oil can never contribute to responding to energy demand.

  3. I’m not sure if someone else has worked this out (and as usual I’m probably like a stuck record on this) but I think EROEI – while important – misses the issue of energy density. I suspect you could have oil extraction driven (in part or whole) by windfarm / hydro / solar / some other renewable resource where the raw EROEI appeared uneconomical – but you’re not comparing like with like. You can’t stick a windfarm on a car roof. Petrol is massively energy dense, that’s why it’s so useful and so difficult to replace (look at the stats in the table in the link above, compare to batteries).

    One example; there are many more on the tinterweb. So (a) don’t underestimate the oil sector’s determination to extract and sell the stuff (as they’re also doing by persuading everyone that CCS is a good idea, except it’s only currently economically viable for enhanced oil recovery) and (b) don’t forget that dense energy you can stick in transport systems is very different to energy generation generally. (This also shows up in fuels being highly value dense too – hence they can be shipped around the world economically).

    Compare to German figures re. the energiewende: actually working out how to fully decarbonise transport adds a colossal amount of wattage to your energy needs. Compared to that, at what point does oil (or gas to liquid or coal to liquid) extraction truly become the less good option?

    1. I don’t understand why people don’t understand that shipping of nonperishable products is very very cheap and very very low energy.

    2. I agree with your thrust.

      I just quibble with “This also shows up in fuels being highly value dense too – hence they can be shipped around the world economically”. Nowadays we ship sand and gravel great distances. Insofar as nonperishable goods are concerned, every paved, docked or railed part of the earth is now a single local area.

      Still EROEI is important. If low EROEI oil is recovered, it is at a net energy cost. That energy has to come from somewhere.

    3. “Insofar as nonperishable goods are concerned, every paved, docked or railed part of the earth is now a single local area. ” Hum, not quite, and certainly not for gravel! I do agree with your general point – it’s the same argument made by Glaeser and Kohlhase (Glaeser, E., Kohlhase, J., 2004. Cities, regions and the decline of transport costs. Papers in Regional Science 83, 197–228.) Probably shouldn’t send the whole article, though it’s got some great stuff in. Their headline argument (which I disagree with) is that “it is better to assume that moving goods is essentially costless than to assume that moving goods is an important component of the production process.” Transport cost as a percentage of GDP has declined massively over the last hundred years as good value has risen (meaning transport costs drop, relatively, in what’s chargeable) and transport tech and logistics have been optimised, so they’re – in general – correct.

      But the value density relationship still holds. Here’s the key figure showing that from the same paper, for US data. The scales are natural log of miles shipped and natural log of average dollars per ton (which is value density – $/ton). Quote: “commodities with lots of bulk tend not to be shipped far. Indeed, the relationship between value per ton and average length of haul is comfortingly tight… R2 is 0.56. If the costs of shipment are roughly proportional to weight, then this suggests that as transport costs rise by 10%, the average length of distance between supplier and consumer falls by -3.2%.”

      It goes on to talk about specific sectors where transport costs are important enough to affect distance – but as I say, they actually want to argue that, overall, transport costs are small enough to leave out of consideration. I actually think that’s a mistake, given what we need to do in the coming decades, though I see their point. As always – depends on the problem you’re examining.

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