Reading List. Peak Energy


An Energy slave unit equals the average output of a man doing 150,000 foot-pounds of work per day 250 days per year. In low-energy societies, nonhuman energy slaves are horses, oxen, windmills, riverboats. Now, the average American has more than 8,000 energy-slaves at his or her disposal and these slaves can work under extreme conditions: no sleep, 5,000° F, at 400,000 pounds per square inch pressure, etc.” Buckminster Fuller.

Oil is the master resource that unlocks all of the others. Don’t have fresh water?  No problem, just use oil to drill down 1,500 feet and pump it up.  Can’t find any fish? No problem, build a large ship and go to the ends of the earth to capture the last schools of fish with high-tech sonar and spotting planes.   It’s hard to think of a problem that can’t be solved by oil.  The only good thing about its coming diminished RATE OF FLOW is that the harm it does, like climate change, biodiversity loss, ozone depletion, acidic oceans — you name it — will decline as well.

RATE OF FLOW, RATE OF FLOW, RATE OF FLOW.  Peak oil is often mis-characterized as RUNNING OUT OF OIL.  What’s going to happen is that there will be a lot of “resources” — not economically viable, and expensive reserves with low quality oil that can only produce limited amounts, unlike conventional which flows effortlessly at first.  It’s a lot like being a billionaire but only allowed to take out $1,000 a month.

Anything which generates electricity is not a solution, because heavy-duty transportation runs on oil.

The bad news is, we can never replace fossil fuels with alternative energy resources. One of the many reasons is SCALE.  Oil is the densest form of energy on the planet next to uranium.  To replace one cubic mile of oil, which is what the world burns every year, you’d need to build 200 dams every year for 50 years (10,000 total), or 2,600 Nuclear plants per year for 50 years (130,000 total), or 5,200 coal plants a year for 50 years (260,000 total), or 1,642,000 wind turbines per year for 50 years (82,100,000 total), or 4,562,500,000 rooftop PV per year for 50 years (22,812,500,000 total).

Source Number Cost (US$1 trillion) Area
(km2) (sq mi)
Dams 200 6 1,264,400 488,200
Nuclear plants 2,600 13 10,400 4,000
Coal plants 5,200 3.4 10,400 4,000
Wind turbines 1,642,000 3.3 273,667 105,663
Rooftop photovoltaics 4,562,500,000 68 63,875 24,662

Best Overview books and articles on peak oil, peak coal, peak natural gas and proposed substitutes

  1. C. Hall. Energy & the Wealth of Nations: Understanding the Biophysical economy.      2011
  2. M. Klare. The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources. 2013.
  3. C. Hall. Hydrocarbons & the Evolution of Human Culture. Nature 426.  20 Nov 2003
  4. J. Perlin. A Forest Journey. The Role of Wood in the Development of Civilization.   1989.
  5. C. Ponting. A New Green History of the World. The Environment & the Collapse of     Great Civilizations. 2007
  6. R. Heinberg. The End of Growth. Adapting to our New Economic Reality. 2011.

Other Good overviews

  1. W. Youngquist. Geodestinies: The Inevitable Control of Earth Resources over Nations &       Individuals. 1997
  2. D. Yergin. The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power. 1993.
  3. G. Hardin. Living Within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos. 1995
  4. D. Pimentel.  Food, Energy, and Society. 1996
  5. Howard Bucknell III. Energy and the National Defense. 1981.

Energy Returned on Energy Invested

  1. P. Prieto & Charles A. S. Hall. 2013. Spain’s Photovoltaic Revolution. The Energy Return on Investment. Springer.
  2. S. Leeb. Dangerous Times as Energy Sources Get Costlier to Extract. 5 Jun 2013. Forbes.
  3. D. Murphy. The Net Hubbert Curve: What Does it Mean? 2009.
  4. J. Lambert. EROI of Global Energy Resources Preliminary Status and Trends.  State        University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry. 2012.
  5. C. Hall. What is the Minimum EROI that a Sustainable Society Must Have? 2009.
  6. D. Murphy. Energy return on investment, peak oil, and the end of economic growth. 2011.

Peak Oil

  1. Kerr, R. Peak oil began 2005 Science Magazine: Peak Oil Production May Already Be Here. Outside of OPEC’s vast resources, oil production has leveled off, and it’s looking like it may never rise againScience. 25 March 2011. Vol 331: 1510-11
  2. Murray, J. Peak Oil began 2005 Nature Magazine: Oil’s tipping point has passed.   26 January 2012. Nature vol 481: 433-35.
  3. Fantazzini, Dean; et al. 2011. Global oil risks in the early 21st century. Energy Policy, Vol. 39, Issue 12: 7865-7873
  4. A. Friedemann. Why do political and economic leaders deny Peak Oil and Climate Change? 2012.
  5. German peak oil report: Armed Forces, Capabilities and Technologies in the 21st Century Environmental Dimensions of Security. PEAK OIL Security policy implications of scarce resources. Bundeswehr Transformation Centre, Future Analysis Branch. 2010.
  6. K. Cobb. The only true metric of energy abundance: The rate of flow. 2013.
  7. R. Hirsch.  Peaking of World Oil Production.  Department of Energy. 2005.
  8. T. Patzek. Oil in the Arctic. 2012. 
  9. R. Patterson. March 5, 2015. Peak Russia + Peak USA means Peak World
  10. M. Simmons. Twilight in the Desert: the coming Saudi oil shock & the world economy. 2005
  11. K. Deffeyes. Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert’s Peak. 2005
  12. K. Deffeyes. Hubbert’s Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage. 2005

Peak Coal

  1. Wang, J. September 4, 2013. Chinese coal supply and future production outlooks [peak likely in 2024]. Energy 60: 204-214.
  2. R. Heinberg. The End of Cheap Coal. Nature 468. 18 Nov 2010.
  3. A. Friedemann. Coal: why it can’t easily substitute for oil. 2011.
  4. T. Patzek. A global coal production forecast with multi-Hubbert cycle analysis.  Energy. 2010.
  5. R. Heinberg. Blackout. Coal, Climate and the Last Energy Crisis. 2009
  6. A. Friedemann. Peak Coal is already here or likely by 2020 — if true — IPCC 100 year projections too high? 2013.
  7. New York Academy of Sciences. Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal.  2011 pp 73-98

Peak Natural Gas

  1. D. Hughes. Oct 27, 2014. Drilling Deeper. A reality check on U.S. government forecasts for a lasting tight oil & shale gas boom.  PostCarbon
  2. B. Powers. Cold, hungry, and in the Dark: Exploding the Natural Gas Supply Myth. 2013
  3. D. Hughes. April 28, 2015. Has Well Productivity Peaked in the Nation’s Largest Shale Gas Play?
  4. SBC. October 2014. Factbook Natural Gas. [20-40% of recoverable resources are low EROI Sour Gas] SBC Energy Institute
  5. R. Heinberg. Chapter 5 of How Fracking’s False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future: The Economics of Fracking: Who Benefits? October 2013.
  6. A. Friedemann. Shale Oil and Gas Will Not Save Us. 2012.
  7. A. Friedemann. Natural Gas pros and cons. 2011.

Coal, Gas, tar sands, etc., can’t replace oil, IPCC projections too high

  1. Höök, M., Tang, X. 2013. Depletion of fossil fuels and anthropogenic climate change: a review. Energy Policy, 52: 797-809
  2. Höök, M., et al. 2014. Hydrocarbon liquefaction: viability as a peak oil mitigation strategy. Philosophical Transactions. Series A: Mathematical, physical, and engineering science, 372
  3. Höök, M. & Aleklett, K. 2010. A review on coal-to-liquid fuels & its coal consumption. International journal of energy research Vol. 34 10:848-864
  4. Gray, D., et al. August 1, 2012.  Topic Paper #8 Production of Alternative Liquid Hydrocarbon Transportation Fuels from Natural Gas, Coal, and Coal and Biomass (XTL). National Petroleum Council
  5. NPC. 2012. Natural Gas. Topic Paper #21. An Initial Qualitative Discussion on Safety Considerations for LNG Use in Transportation. National Petroleum Council


  1. A. Friedemann. Peak Soil: Why Cellulosic and other Biofuels are Not Sustainable and a Threat to America’s National Security. 2007.
  2. German National Academy of Science (Leopoldina Nationale Akademie der Wissenschaften).  Bioenergy — Chances and LimitsPage 30-56 English Version. 2012.
  3. A. Friedemann. Dozens of reasons why algae will never replace oil. 2011.
  4. A. Friedemann. Analyzing energy breakthroughs: a skeptical look at seaweed ethanol. 2011.

Oilsands / Tarsands

  1. Nikiforuk, A. 22 May 2013. Difficult Truths about ‘Difficult Oil’. As we work down the hydrocarbon pyramid, energy gets messier and much more costly.
  2. Nuwer, R. Feb 19, 2013. Oil Sands Mining Uses Up Almost as Much Energy as It Produces. InsideClimate News.
  3. A. Friedemann. Why Oilsands (a.k.a. tarsands) can’t replace oil. 2011.

Shale Oil (not really oil but a percursor, kerogen, like your finger nails)

  1. A. Friedemann. Shale Oil Overview. 2011.
  2. R. Udall. The Illusive Bonanza: Oil Shale in Colorado. 2005.

Methane Hydrates

  1. A. Friedemann. Why we aren’t mining methane hydrates now. Or ever. 2014.
  2. C. Nelder. Are Methane Hydrates Really Going to Change Geopolitics?  The Atlantic.  2013.
  3. Office of Naval Research Science & Technology. Fiery ice from the Sea. 2002.

Globalization is due to Containerized Shipping

Ships run on the least refined oil, and are more efficient than trains or trucks, so they may end up being the last oil-based transit, unless war or lack of metals makes building new ships impossible.

M. Levinson. The Box: How the shipping container made the world smaller. 2008.


Huesemann, M. & J. Techno-Fix: Why Technology Won’t Save Us or the Environment.

Related Reading Lists

Energy is the master resource that makes food, concrete, metals, infrastructure (i.e. sewage, water treatment, roads, bridges, railroads, vehicles, etc.) possible.  Oil and gas are not only the energy sources that make stuff, but are the feedstock of over half a million products.

Oil, natural gas, and coal — from extraction to delivery — depend on metal and concrete for oil-based vehicles and equipment, refineries, oil & natural gas pipelines, coal plants, concrete roads, and so on.

Energy extraction and delivery will stop when any one of these are not available (supply chain failure): minerals, concrete, infrastructure, vehicles, computer chips, and so on, and also prevented by war or social unrest.  As supplies, and societies, break from unrest and natural disasters, and there isn’t the energy, metal, plastic, or concrete to fix things, energy extraction and delivery will contract, often suddenly, causing local and regional “collapses” that will eventually extend to the whole world.

Alternative energy resources booklist




Concrete, Metals, Minerals


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