Wednesday 22 June 2011

Twin Peaks

When the question arises that the world supply of something has “peaked” almost always there are major disagreements between those involved. This is because something has to be in demand for a supply to peak.

When synthetic chemical fertilizers were discovered, the supplies of guano may have begun to run out but even if ample reserves were available, given the cost of obtaining, transporting and using it then the synthetics may have soon captured the market.

For some George Monbiot’s material is an acquired taste but at least it is his own voice, right, wrong, or way off the pitch. He might or might not come up with something that works but is worth reading. If he is wrong it is interesting to work out why.

A few days ago, I have only just picked up on it; he did have something interesting on the subject of peak oil in terms of what has been going on in Whitehall. It is very worrying in that this is a subject we all should have a deep interest in for the sake of ourselves and all our futures.

This blog often refers to The Oil Drum web site where there is a good deal of expert material on Oil and related energy sources that reflects the debate and the uncertainty in this issue. There is a serious debate and many differences of view.  Yet this is something that is at the heart of so much basic policy as well as energy.

Amongst the certainties are that finding and extracting oil is more expensive and those costs may rise further and if extraction of oil shales on a large scale is needed then the costs are likely to be higher still.

This might curtail demand and put something of a cap on what can be afforded. There are experts who point to the potential of natural gas from shales and other sources which may help to bridge the gap and enable humanity to continue using these energy sources for some time to come.

Again, this is all at a price and the location of those shales and sources will change the pattern of world power as they become more important. Geopolitics in the 20th Century was heavily dependent on geophysics and with our current economic systems is likely to remain so.

An aspect of all this is that the calculations of oil reserves are one thing and highly unreliable at present but how much of that assumed oil is either recoverable or usable economically is another matter. There are strong differences of opinion over this.

Then there is demand. If supply estimates and prediction are difficult then trying to work out the pattern and nature of the several features of demand is much harder. There are many theories and assumptions and rather less evidence. Some of that is embodied in mathematical calculations that might owe more to hope than reality.

What George Monbiot suggests is that the UK government, both former and possibly present, has tried to look at the issues. But this has not been an open debate and there are questions about the content. Moreover, the public were not told that this was going on and when told something it was at variance with the evidence and the facts. Typically, our machinery of government does not seem to be doing much about nor has it plans to sort things out except the usual broad vision type statements.

My question is that what happens if we have both peak supply and peak demand? That is that in the future there is not going to be more supplies of the necessary energy resources from oil or gas and in any case the world demand, because of price and maybe persistent economic and political problems has peaked as well.

The global implications of this are not nice.

1 comment:

  1. I find this a difficult subject where understanding the technical stuff isn't enough and it isn't easy to check sources because they tend to disagree or peter out in a range of possibilities.

    I think gas is worth watching, together with small nuclear installations such as those being developed by Toshiba.

    The trouble is, these interesting and important issues don't get into the mainstream media (particularly the BBC) in a neutral format. Always the green lobby wants to skew the debate and the BBC is very willing to allow it.