Sunday, May 30, 2010

This is what the end of the oil age looks like

“This is what the end of the oil age looks like. The cheap, easy petroleum is gone; from now on, we will pay steadily more and more for what we put in our gas tanks—more not just in dollars, but in lives and health, in a failed foreign policy that spawns foreign wars and military occupations, and in the lost integrity of the biological systems that sustain life on this planet. The only solution is to do proactively, and sooner, what we will end up doing anyway as a result of resource depletion and economic, environmental, and military ruin: end our dependence on the stuff.”

- Richard Heinberg from here.

I am not necessarily a fan of everything Richard Heinberg says, but this post is about right, at least in the medium to long term. "Steadily" rising prices (economic, social, ecological and so on) doesn't necessarily mean that every day will be more expensive than the previous. There will still be peaks and troughs, but the overall trend is away from cheap oil. As has been noted many times before, the reason we are now drilling in such technically challenging and dangerous locations is that the easier oil is going or gone. It's all uphill from here.


eclipsenow said...

Too true! It takes at least a half hour, maybe a full hour video, to even get the basic concepts across.

I know you know all this Byron, but just in case anyone else is reading over our shoulders, I'll make the following comments.

Unless educated in geology this stuff just isn't intuitive. We're not used to thinking in terms of planetary limits. We just don't seem to get the difference between increasing supplies of abundant, easy to get at resources and resources that are decreasing in production, decreasing in availability, harder to reach, harder to extract, harder to process and harder to get to market.

Then there's the question of ERoEI. (Energy Returned on Energy Invested). When mining for energy tend to close down when it takes 1 barrel of oil to mine 1 barrel of oil. There's not much point continuing in that game.

But what if the energy resource were a million times more concentrated than even fossil fuels? What if E = MC2 really is true? That makes for a VERY big number!

Basically, what that means is you can pick any patch of the earth's crust, whether desert or soil or granite, and just start mining for uranium and thorium and never worry about ERoEI because the energy returned, even at fairly tiny ppm, will always be worth it!

And given average concentrations in the earth's crust, we have enough fissile material to run a hypothetical 100 TW civilisation for geological time scales! Basically, 3 times as far into the future as the dinosaur extinction event is behind us!

To be honest, I don't think we'd need to mine the earth's crust. We have enough nuclear waste (or 'once through fuel') to run the WHOLE world's energy needs for 500 years! That's without a single new uranium mine.

Now given the way all sorts of energy and battery technologies are progressing, do we really think we'll even need nuclear power in 100 years?