June 2005 (Revision 6)
means that a turning point will come when the world produces the most oil it
will ever produce in a given year and, after that, yearly production will
inevitably decline. It is usually represented graphically in a bell curve. The
peak is the top of the curve, the halfway point of the world's all-time total
production, meaning that half the world's oil will be left. That seems like a
lot of oil, and it is, but there's a big catch: It's the half that is much more
difficult to extract, far more costly to get, of much poorer quality and
located mostly in places where the people hate us. A substantial amount of it
will never be extracted.
One barrel equals 42 gallons.
The following four paragraphs are based on data for 2001/2002 obtained from
U.S. consumption of crude oil is approximately 20 million barrels per day of
which 16 million are imported. This produces approximately 384 million gallons
of gasoline per day19.2 gallons per barrel. This results in 7.372 billion
pounds of CO
produced per day.
World consumption of crude oil is approximately 64 million barrels per day.
World reserves of crude oil are reported to be 687.43 billion barrels.
Using present consumption, this will provide crude oil for 29.2 years. This
ignores increasing demand, most notably in China and India.
This year (2005) global demand for oil is currently at more than 84 million
barrels per day and climbing. It is predicted by many geologists that peak oil
will be reached in the 2005 to 2007 time frame.
About 134 billion barrels will be found over the next 30 years. That is enough
to meet current world demand for 4.37 years.
U.S. crude oil consumption is 7.3 billion barrels a year. Estimates of total
oil reserves in Alaska range from about 6 billion to 13 billion barrels of oil.
Thus, all of the reserves in Alaska would meet U.S. total annual consumption
for just 2 years at best. The ANWR oil field reserves in Alaska will meet
current needs for just a little more than one year. (Of course, this is not
something that is going to happen--getting all of our crude oil from Alaska. It
is just comparing Alaskan reserves to U.S. demand.)
EROEI = Energy Returned On Energy Invested
It takes 22 lbs. of corn to make 1 gallon of ethanol.
It takes 131K btu of energy to make 1 gallon of ethanol, which produces 77K btu
of energy, which is a net loss of 51K btu per gallon produced.
Cost of producing 1 gallon of ethanol is approximately $1.75. Cost of producing
1 gallon of gasoline is $.95.
Corn yield is approximately 7110 lbs. per acre. To replace gasoline with
ethanol would require that 97% of the land in the United States be growing corn.
Biodiesel is considerably better than ethanol, but with an EROEI of three, it
still doesn't compare to oil, which has had an EROEI of about 30.
Since ethanol is a net energy loser with an EROEI of 1:1.3 ethanol will not be
a viable energy replacement for fossil fuels to any significant degree.
It would appear that government support of ethanol is nothing more than
political pandering. [See Final Comments]
1 tonne = 1.10 ton
Nuclear power leaves a toxic legacy to all future generations; it produces
global warming gases, most notably CO2
, chlorofluorocarbon gas which is responsible for ozone depletion and which is
10,000 to 2000 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and radioactive isotopes
such as krypton, xenon, argon and tritium, which cause gene mutations; it is
far more expensive than any other form of electricity generation; and it can
trigger proliferation of nuclear weapons,
At present there are 442 nuclear reactors in operation around the world. If, as
the nuclear industry suggests, nuclear power were to replace fossil fuels on a
large scale, it would be necessary to build 2000 large, 1000-megawatt reactors.
Considering that no new nuclear plant has been ordered in the US since 1978,
this proposal is less than practical. Furthermore, even if we decided today to
replace all fossil-fuel-generated electricity with nuclear power, there would
only be enough economically viable uranium to fuel the reactors for three to
Also, the enrichment facility at Paducah, Kentucky and another at Portsmouth,
Ohio, release from leaky pipes 93 per cent of the chlorofluorocarbon gas
emitted yearly in the US. The production and release of CFC gas is now banned
internationally by the Montreal Protocol because it is the main culprit
responsible for stratospheric ozone depletion. But CFC is also a global warmer,
10,000 to 20,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Four of the most dangerous elements made in nuclear power plants are Iodine
131, Strontium 90, Cesium 137, and Plutonium 239, one of the most dangerous
elements known to humansso toxic that one-millionth of a gram is
carcinogenic. More than 200kg is made annually in each 1000-megawatt nuclear
power plant. Plutonium lasts for 500,000 years.
Plutonium is also the fuel for nuclear weapons -- only 5kg is necessary to make
a bomb and each reactor makes more than 200kg per year. Therefore any country
with a nuclear power plant can theoretically manufacture 40 bombs a year.
Nuclear energy requires uraniumof which the U.S. has enough to power
existing reactors for 25-40 years. As with oil, the extraction of uranium
follows a bell-curve. If a large scale nuclear program was undertaken the
supply of U.S. domestically derived uranium would likely peak in under 15
Uranium comes from granite. To fuel a nuclear reactor with nominal capacity of
1 GW(e) each year, about 162 tonnes natural uranium has to be extracted from
earth's crust. With an average uranium grade of four grams U per tonne of
granite, 40 million tonnes of rock must be extracted to produce 162 tonnes of
For comparison, a coal-fired power station of equivalent 1 GW(e) power consumes
about 2 million tonnes of coal each year.
China is preparing to award an $8 billion contract to build four reactors in
the world's biggest nuclear power construction program. The country plans to
build 27 plants to meet a target of raising nuclear energy output fivefold by
2020. India aims to build 17 reactors to triple nuclear power capacity by 2012.
Concern about supply shortages helped increase spot prices of uranium to $20.50
a pound as of Dec. 31,2004 according to Metal Bulletin. This price is expected
to rise to $27 in 2005.
Each 1 Gigawatt plant requires more than 150 tonnes (165 tons) of uranium per
year, which would cost about $8,250,000 per year at $25 per pound. Inventories
of uranium are falling and there has been little response to that in the way of
more mine supply.
The United States has not ordered a new nuclear power plant since the 1970s.
The last one to start up, the Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar reactor,
came on line in 1996 after 23 years of construction delays.
Breeder technology has proven to be unfeasible and it likely never will be
China aims to double total power generation capacity by 2020. It needs to add
two reactors a year by then to meet a target of generating 4 percent of its
power from nuclear plants.
Uranium supply issues aside, a large scale switch over to nuclear power is not
really an option for an economy that requires as much energy as ours does. It
would take 10,000 of the largest nuclear power plants to produce the energy we
get from fossil fuels. At $3-5 billion per plant, it's not long before we're
talking about "real money"especially since the $3-5 billion
doesn't even include the cost of decommissioning old reactors, converting the
nuclear generated energy into a fuel source (hydrogen) appropriate for cars,
boats, trucks, airplanes, and the not-so-minor problem of handling nuclear
Where are we going to get the massive amounts of oil necessary to build
hundreds, if not thousands, of these reactors, especially since they take 10 or
so years to build and we won't get motivated to build them until after oil
supplies have reached a point of permanent scarcity?
Nuclear power plants will provide some temporary relief from the oil shortfall.
However, the more that are built, the less time uranium will be available. If
ten percent of the need (1000 plants) is met by nuclear power then the supply
of uranium will be depleted in less than 15 years.
The product, electricity, has little direct benefit to the transportation
As a short-term solution, nuclear plants will not be available in time to
offset the decline in the U.S. Nuclear, as a long-term solution, is a dead-end
Solar and Wind Power
Solar and wind power suffer from four fundamental physical shortcomings that
prevent them from ever being able to replace more than a tiny fraction of the
energy we get from oil: lack of energy density, inappropriateness as
transportation fuels, energy intermittency, and inability to scale.
It would take all of California's 13,000 wind turbines to generate as much
electricity as a single 555-megawatt natural gas fired power plant.
If you add up all the solar photovoltaic cells now running worldwide (2004),
the combined outputaround 2,000 megawattsbarely rivals the output
of two coal-fired power plants.
To replace the amount of energy produced by a single offshore drilling platform
that pumps only 12,000 barrels of oil per day, you would need either a 36
square mile solar panel or 10,000 wind turbines.
Approximately 2/3 of our oil supply is used for transportation. Solar and wind
cannot be used as industrial-scale transportation fuels unless they are used to
produce hydrogen from water via electrolysis. The electrolysis process is a
simple one, but unfortunately it consumes 1.3 units of energy for every 1 unit
of energy it produces. In other words, it results in a net loss of energy. You
can't replace oilwhich has a positive EROEI of about 30/1with an
energy source that has a negative EROEI.
Less than one-sixth of one percent of our current energy needs now comes from
solar or wind. A predicted growth rate of 10 percent per year isn't going to do
much to soften our oil shortfall
On a household or village scale, solar and wind are certainly worthy
investments. But to hope/expect they are going to power more than a small
fraction of our global industrial economy is very unrealistic.
Solar and wind power is likely to provide less than five percent of the energy
required for our industrial society.
The basic problem of hydrogen fuel cells is that the second law of
thermodynamics dictates that we will always have to expend more energy deriving
the hydrogen than we will receive from the usage of that hydrogen. The common
misconception is that hydrogen fuel cells are an alternative energy source when
they are not.
In reality, hydrogen fuel cells are a storage battery for energy derived from
other sources. In a fuel cell, hydrogen and oxygen are fed to the anode and
cathode, respectively, of each cell. Electrons stripped from the hydrogen
produce direct current electricity which can be used in a DC electric motor or
converted to alternating current.
Because of the second law of thermodynamics, hydrogen fuel cells will always
have a bad EROEI. If fossil fuels are used to generate the hydrogen, either
through the Methane-Steam method or through Electrolysis of Water, there will
be no advantage over using the fossil fuels directly. The use of hydrogen as an
intermediate form of energy storage is justified only when there is some reason
for not using the primary source directly. For this reason, a hydrogen-based
economy must depend on large-scale development of nuclear power or solar
Hydrogen is a common element, but it has to be extracted from other sources in
ways that can be environmentally damaging. The most common method for producing
hydrogen involves converting natural gas, but with natural gas already in
increasing demand and short supply, it's not practical to expect it to be a
major source for powering vehicles.
That leads to the next most common way to produce hydrogen: a method that
involves burning coal. But that produces vast amounts of carbon dioxide, a
"greenhouse gas" that is thought to contribute to global climate
In the United States, ninety percent of the hydrogen produced is made from
natural gas, with an efficiency of 72% which means you've just lost 28% of the
energy contained in the natural gas to make it (and that doesn't count the
energy it took to extract and deliver the natural gas to the hydrogen plant).
Like ethanol, all hydrogen production requires more energy to produce it than
it provides. If you don't understand this concept, please mail me ten dollars
and I'll send you back a dollar.
Arguing that hydrogen burned in a car engine produces no greenhouse gases
ignores the fact that those same gases were produced at the plant that made the
hydrogen to begin with.
A volume of 62,880 gallons of hydrogen gas is necessary to replace the energy
capacity of 20 gallons of gasoline.
Hydrogen is the Houdini of elements. As soon as you've gotten it into a
container, it wants to get out, and since it's the lightest of all gases, it
takes a lot of effort to keep it from escaping. Storage devices need a complex
set of seals, gaskets, and valves. Liquid hydrogen tanks for vehicles boil off
at 3-4% per day.
Hydrogen has the lowest ignition point of any fuel, 20 times less than
gasoline. So if there's a leak, it can be ignited by a cell phone, a storm
miles away or the static from sliding on a car seat.
Honda Motor Co. said its FCX fuel-cell cars cost "hundreds of millions of
yen" apiece at present (June 2005). A hundred million yen is worth about
Unfortunately, the average fuel cell lasts only 200 hours. Two hundred hours
translates into just 12,000 miles, or about one year's worth of driving at 60
miles per hour. This means all 700 million fuel cells (with 10 grams of
platinum in each one) would have to be replaced every single year.
Thus replacing the 700 million oil-powered vehicles on the road with fuel
cell-powered vehicles, for only one year, would require us to mine every single
ounce of platinum currently in the earth and divert all of it for fuel cell
construction only. Doing so is absolutely impossible as platinum is
astonishingly energy intensive (expensive) to mine, is already in short supply,
and is indispensable to thousands of crucial industrial processes.
It is just amazing that hydrogen is even considered as an alternative to fossil
fuels. The only explanation for its promotion is
money!". Who will benefit? Could it be GM, Shell, etc.? [See Final
This quest for energy facts all began with a question to myself: "How many
years before we run out of natural gas in the United States?" The answer I
found, after collecting data from the internet was that the
has enough natural gas to last approximately 65 years
at the present rate of consumption
. Since ninety percent of all new U.S. power plants are proposing to use
natural gas to produce electricity the reserves will no doubt be used at a much
greater rate than under current conditions.
World natural gas will peak about 10 years after oil peaks. In the U.S. the
natural gas peak was reached in 1973, while oil peaked in 1970/71.
One of George W. Bush's energy advisors, energy investment banker Matthew
Simmons, has spoken at length about the impending crisis. When asked in August,
2003 if there is a solution to the impending natural gas crisis, Simmons
"I don't think there is one. The solution is to pray. Under the best of
circumstances, if all prayers are answered there will be no crisis for maybe
two years. After that it's a certainty."
"A massive number of gas-fired power plants have been ordered. But the gas
to run them is simply not there."
LNG is natural gas, chilled at the wellhead to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit,
loaded into expensive tankers the size of aircraft carriers, and shipped around
the world. At the destination, the liquid is re-gasified by warming it, and
then it is siphoned off into pipelines. All of this consumes considerable
amounts of energy, reducing the efficiency of the gas as an energy source.
There are currently four LPG ports in the U.S. Four new LNG terminals are
expected to open on the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf Coasts between 2007 and 2010,
and one to serve Florida is planned for the Bahamas. One is planned for Baja
Gas is the cleanest fossil fuel, producing about half as much carbon dioxide
per unit of energy as coal. The nation has 320,000 gas wells. Each year, 280
million Americans use as much natural gas as 3 billion people in Europe and
Domestic supplies meet 85% of our needs, the other 15% comes from Canada. Half
of Canada's supply is exported. However, Canada is debating whether they should
be exporting natural gas they are going to need. Will other countries also
decide to limit exports?
In 2001 natural gas consumption in the U.S. was 22.3 tcf (trillion cubic feet).
Reserves were calculated to be 183 tcf. Excluding imports from Canada and LPG
imports, that provides for 8.2 years until depletion. World reserves as of 2004
were estimated to be 6,076 tcf. World consumption as of 2001 was 90
tcf.or 67.5 years until depletion.
Natural gas provides our best hope of delaying the pending energy crisis.
However, without imports of LPG , U.S. supplies would be depleted within the
Eighty percent of the homes in the U.S. are heated with natural gas. When that
is not available the choices will be coal, electricity or wood. Coal will not
be generally available, except perhaps when the situation becomes desperate,
electricity will be expensive and in short supply. That leaves trees
(firewood)and 100,000,000 homes with people trying to stay warm. What
with wood smoke being ten times more toxic that cigarette smoke, the pollution
levels from wood and coal would be catastrophic, to say nothing of the
distribution problems. Draw your own conclusions as to how that scenario would
There is some disparity in the facts available for coal consumption. One source
says world consumption is 2.58 billion tonnes and another sources says 4.56
billion tonnes. World reserves are approximately 984 billion tonnes. In a worst
case scenario, that means 215 years of coal at present consumption. Population
growth could reduce this considerably and creating other uses for coal could
reduce it to less than 100 years.
Coal can be used to make synthetic oil via a process known as gasification. If
we start using coal for synthetic oil production, coal could peak within a
couple of decades.
We use now about twice as much energy from oil as we do from coal, so if you
wanted to mine enough coal to replace the missing oil, you'd have to mine it at
a much higher rate, not only to replace the oil, but also because the
conversion process to oil is extremely inefficient. You'd have to mine it at
levels at least five times beyond those we mine now.
The environmental concerns of using coal would not be trivial. Coal is a dirty
fuel and produces impurities such as mercury, arsenic, and sulfur, as well as CO2.
It would not be very long until coal mining would reach a point at which it
would take as much energy to process as it would producean EROEI of 1:1.
At that time mining would halt.
Coal could provide a source for gasification, for fueling power plants, and for
home heating. It is not, however, a long term solution, and will be used only
for several decades due to fact that the alternatives are minimal. At that
point it will become depleted or not worth the energy costs of being mined.
A note about the word Facts: It seems that 'facts' to one person may be
'opinion' to another person. Biases enter into almost any discussion. So, what
we want to believe is frequently what we do believe. However, when there is a
general consensus in the scientific community as to the validity of information
we tend to view that information as 'fact'. As more sources provide
reinforcement to the information presented, the more likely we are to believe
it. No doubt the facts presented here could be construed to be biased toward
raising awareness of the energy situation, but they are presented by many
sources and so have considerable credibility.
To be fair, the efforts being put into hydrogen and ethanol/biodiesel may not
be completely misguided. One might assume that there is hope for serendipity.
It is always possible that the concept of "fusion in a soup can"
could become a reality. Such a scientific breakthrough could overcome the
present doomsday scenario, but there is no reason to believe that it will
There is, however, a plan to build an International Thermonuclear Experimental
Reactor (ITER) in Caararache, France which has enormous potential and could
lead to the building of a prototype power station in about 30 years time. ITER
is the experimental step between today’s studies of plasma physics and
tomorrow's electricity-producing fusion power plants. It is based around a
hydrogen plasma torus operating at over 100 million °C, and will produce 500
megawatts of fusion power. The United States, the 25-member European Union,
Russia, China, Japan and Korea are the major players collaborating on ITER. The
planned $13 billion project is one of the most prestigious and expensive
international scientific efforts ever launched.
Fuel is not the only product obtained from crude oil. Where are the plastics
and other synthetics, such as drugs, going to come fromnot from hydrogen
Decreasing world oil production, or any other non-replaceable resource, by a
couple of percentage points is going to cause havoc. Look at what happened
during the oil crisis in the 1970s. You don't need to run out to have a serious
problem. An analogy is dying of thirstyou are in a lot of discomfort long
before you die and you die long before you are completely out of water. As
supply declines, either efficiencies have to improve or someone that was using
oil starts to do withouttravel, transportation, electricity, heat, oil
based manufacturing products. This is an immediate effect.
Foreigners have been funding the massive U.S. debt over the past few years.
China and Japan in particular hold over a trillion dollars of U.S. debt
(treasuries, mortgages), financing U.S. imports. As oil becomes more and more
scarce, the U.S. will be competing with these countries for oil, ultimately in
a life or death struggle. One option these countries will have is to start
selling off their U.S. holdings, flooding the market, devaluing the U.S.
dollar. The U.S. will then be forced to compete with these countries for oil
using a significantly devalued currency. In U.S. dollar terms, the price of a
barrel of oil will soar and the effects of all this will ripple through the
We are going to see a significant change in our life style. A two percent
change in the oil supply in the next few years will be noticed by everyone. The
only real question is when and how fast. The U.S. government believes the
down-slope of the peak oil bell curve will not be as steep as the up-slope; so
maybe the changes will not be in 2005, but certainly before 2015. How big and
how fast can also be influenced by outside factors such as terrorists or
Consider this scenario: Rising oil prices cause inflation. This causes
"the Fed" to raise interest rates to combat inflation. That would
cause an end to the hot housing market, which would result in a major
recession, only to be followed by a world wide depression. The possible next
step is anarchy.
While we have an industrial society now, in the energy-deficient future we are
like to return to an agricultural-based society.
We, our children, or our grandchildren are in for some very bad, bad times.
Nine reasons the peak now looks more imminent
1. Sharply declining discovery figures for 2002 and 2003.
2. Increasingly pessimistic assessments from ASPO (Colin Campbell) pulling
projections of the peak for all liquids back from about 2015 to 2007.
3. Evaporation of spare capacity throughout the entire global
production/distribution system, leading to the recent run-up in oil prices.
4. Matthew Simmons's dire assessments of the state of Saudi Arabia's reserves.
5. Statements by Roger Blanchard and others about the major projects coming on
line in the next couple of years (mostly in deep water off the coasts of West
Africa, Brazil, and in the Gulf of Mexico) that are likely to boost total
global production temporarily--but that will play out rather quickly. There
seem to be few big projects further out in the 2008-2012 frame to replace or
6. The peaking of production in ever more nations--now including Norway, Great
Britain, and Oman; Richard Duncan reckons that, of 44 significant producing
nations, 24 are past their individual all-time peaks.
7. Statements by industry representatives (e.g., Jon Thompson of ExxonMobil)
that, given current depletion rates, huge new replacement projects will be
needed as soon as 2010 in order to keep up with rising demand.
8. Soaring demand from China, Japan, Korea, and the U.S..
9. Increasing instability in the Middle East, fomented in large part by the
invasion and occupation of Iraq, but threatening now to spill over into Saudi
Arabia and other nations.
The Long Emergency
Peak Oil: Life After the Oil Crash
A nuclear power primer
ASPO - The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas
ASPO - Boone Pickens
ASPO - Wolf at the door
Clusterfuck Nation by Jim Kunstler
Eating Fossil Fuels
EnergyBulletin.net - Great Expectations Energy and Peak Oil News
EnergyBulletin.net - Next U.S. nuclear reactors won't be made in USA Energy and Peak Oil News
EnergyBulletin.net Nine reasons the peak now looks more imminent Energy and Peak Oil News
Geohive Global coal reserves
Guardian Unlimited Life- Colin Campbell
How long will the world's oil last - Oil & Energy - MSNBC.com
Hubbert Peak of Oil Production
International Energy Outlook - Natural Gas
Map & Graph Countries by Energy Oil Consumption
Map & Graph Countries by Energy Oil Reserves
Peak Oil News
R&T Technology Update Fill 'er Up...But Whatever With And Wherever From
The End Of The Age Of Oil
The Globe and Mail - How oil is changing the world
Why Hydrogen is No Solution
Could Experimental Thermonuclear Reactor Save the World From Peak Oil?
An Online Discussion with Matt Simmons
Saudi Oil and the World Economy