Life After the Oil Crash
"Deal With Reality or Reality Will Deal With You"
Civilization as we know it is coming to an end soon. This is not the wacky proclamation of a doomsday cult, apocalypse bible prophecy sect, or conspiracy theory society. Rather, it is the scientific conclusion of the best paid, most widely-respected geologists, physicists, and investment bankers in the world. These are rational, professional, conservative individuals who are absolutely terrified by a phenomenon known as global "Peak Oil."
"Are We 'Running Out'? I Thought
There Was 40 Years of the Stuff Left"
Oil will not just "run out" because all oil production follows a bell curve. This is true whether we're talking about an individual field, a country, or on the planet as a whole.
Oil is increasingly plentiful on the upslope of the bell curve, increasingly scarce and expensive on the down slope. The peak of the curve coincides with the point at which the endowment of oil has been 50 percent depleted. Once the peak is passed, oil production begins to go down while cost begins to go up.
In practical and considerably oversimplified terms, this means that if 2000 was the year of global Peak Oil, worldwide oil production in the year 2020 will be the same as it was in 1980. However, the worldâ€™s population in 2020 will be both much larger (approximately twice) and much more industrialized (oil-dependent) than it was in 1980. Consequently, worldwide demand for oil will outpace worldwide production of oil by a significant margin. As a result, the price will skyrocket, oil-dependant economies will crumble, and resource wars will explode.
The issue is not one of "running out" so much as it is not having enough to keep our economy running. In this regard, the ramifications of Peak Oil for our civilization are similar to the ramifications of dehydration for the human body. The human body is 70 percent water. The body of a 200 pound man thus holds 140 pounds of water. Because water is so crucial to everything the human body does, the man doesn't need to lose all 140 pounds of water weight before collapsing due to dehydration. A loss of as little as 10-15 pounds of water may be enough to kill him.
In a similar sense, an oil-based economy such as ours doesn't need to deplete its entire reserve of oil before it begins to collapse. A shortfall between demand and supply as little as 10-15 percent is enough to wholly shatter an oil-dependent economy and reduce its citizenry to poverty.
The effects of even a small drop in production can be devastating. For instance, during the 1970s oil shocks, shortfalls in production as small as 5% caused the price of oil to nearly quadruple. The same thing happened in California a few years ago with natural gas: a production drop of less than 5% caused prices to skyrocket by 400%.
Fortunately, those price shocks were only temporary.
The coming oil shocks won't be so short-lived. They represent the onset of a new, permanent condition. Once the decline gets under way, production will drop (conservatively) by 3% per year, every year.
That estimate comes from numerous sources, not the least of which is Vice President Dick Cheney himself. In a 1999 speech he gave while still CEO of Halliburton, Cheney stated:
By some estimates, there will be an average of two-percent annual growth in global oil demand over the years ahead, along with, conservatively, a three-percent natural decline in production from existing reserves.That means by 2010 we will need on the order of anadditional 50 million barrels a
How is the Oil Industry Reacting to This?"
If you want to know the harsh truth about the future of oil, simply look at the actions of the oil industry. As a recent article in M.I.T.'s Technology Review points out:
If the actions - rather than the words - of the oil business's major players provide the best gauge of how they see the future, then ponder the following. Crude oil prices havedoubled since 2001, but oil companies have increased their budgets for exploring new oil fields by only a small fraction.
Likewise, U.S. refineries are working close to capacity, yet no new refinery has been constructed since 1976. And oil tankers are fully booked, but outdated ships are being decommissioned faster than new ones are being built.
Some people believe that no new refineries have been built due to the efforts of environmentalists. This belief is silly when one considers how much money and political influence the oil industry has compared to the environmental movement. You really think Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush were going to let a bunch of pesky environmentalists get in the way of oil refineries being built if the oil companies had wanted to build them?
The real reason no new refineries have been built for almost 30 years is simple: any oil company that wants to stay profitable isn't going to invest in new refineries when they know there is going to be less and less oil to refine.
In addition to lowering their investments in oil exploration and refinery expansion, oil companies have been merging as though the industry is living on borrowed time:
December 1998: BP and Amoco merge;
April 1999: BP-Amoco and Arco agree to merge;
December 1999: Exxon and Mobil merge;
October 2000: Chevron and Texaco agree to merge;
November 2001: Phillips and Conoco agree to merge;
September 2002: Shell acquires Penzoil-Quaker State;
February 2003: Frontier Oil and Holly agree to merge;
March 2004: Marathon acquires 40% of Ashland;
April 2004: Westport Resources acquires Kerr-McGee;
July 2004: Analysts suggest BP and Shell merge;
April 2005: Chevron-Texaco and Unocal merge;
June 2005: Royal Dutch and Shell merge;
July 2005: China begins trying to acquire Unocal
While many people believe talk of a global oil shortage is simply a conspiracy by "Big Oil" to drive up the prices and create "artificial scarcity," the rash of mergers listed above tells a different story. Mergers and acquisitions are the corporate world's version of cannibalism. When any industry begins to contract/collapse, the larger and more powerful companies will cannibalize/seize the assets of the smaller, weaker companies.
If you suspect the oil companies are conspiring amongst themselves to create artificial scarcity and thereby artificially raise prices, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Are the actions of the oil companies the actions of friendly rivals who are conspiring amongst each other to drive up prices and keep the petroleum game going?
2. Are the actions of the oil companies the actions of rival corporate desperados who, fully aware that their source of income is rapidly dwindling, are now preying upon each other in a game of "last man standing"?
You don't have to contemplate too much, as recent disclosures from oil industry insiders indicate we are indeed "damn close to peaking" while independent industry analysts are now concluding that large oil companies believe Peak Oil is at our doorstep.
As the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists recently observed, even ExxonMobil is now "sounding the silent Peak Oil alarm." In their 2005 report entitled, "The Outlook for Energy", ExxonMobil suggests that increased demand be met first through greater fuel efficiency. The fact that ExxonMobil - one of the largest oil companies in the world - is now recommending increased fuel efficiency should tell you how imminent a crisis is at this point.
Equally alarming is the fact that Chevron has now started a surprisingly candid campaign to publicly address these issues. While the campaign fails to mention "Peak Oil" or explain how a drastically reduced oil supply will affect the average person, it does acknowledge that, while it took 125 years to burn through the first trillion barrels of oil,
"How Do I Know Peak Oil Isn't Big Oil Propaganda That is Being Used To Create Artificial Scarcity & Justify Gouging Us at the Pump?"
If Peak Oil is "Big Oil propaganda" (as some claim), why did Sonoma State University's Project Censored declare it one of the most censored stories of 2003-2004? Surely, if "Peak Oil is Big Oil propaganda", Big Oil would have found a way to get it off the pages of under-funded publications like Project Censored and onto the pages of the mainstream papers and into the 24/7 cable news cycle years ago.
Likewise, if "Peak Oil is a myth propagated by the greedy oil companies to justify high prices", why didn't any of the greedy oil company CEOs offer "the peaking of world oil production" as a partial justification for high gas prices when they testified before Congress about high gas prices?
Yet "Peak Oil" was never mentioned during the hearings by either the executives or the Senators questioning them. Given the obvious importance of the issue, any reasonable person can't help but to ask, "Why the heck not?"
The answer is simple: the true consequences of Peak Oil cannot be acknowledged in such a highly public forum without crashing the financial markets or begging the obvious yet politically-dangerous and "patriotically-incorrect" question:
Is the war in Iraq really a war for the world's last remaining significant sized deposits of oil?"
Although the answer to this question should be obvious, broaching the issue in such a highly public forum would bring more skeletons out of Dick Cheney's energy task force closet than any sane member of the Senate, Republican or Democrat, would ever want to face. (Would you?)
Finally, if Peak Oil was just "Big Oil" propaganda, why is Exxon Mobil (one of the biggest oil companies in the world) spending millions of dollars on its anti-Peak Oil advertising campaign?
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