Antonio Turiel: Explaining Peak Oil the Easy Way

Explaining Peak Oil the Easy Way

Preface. Turiel writes an excellent blog “The oil crash” at Turiel explains eloquently why the amount of oil will decline even though there are vast pools of oil left underground.

If you read my book “When trucks stop running”, you’ll realize the real issue is peak diesel, since civilization depends on heavy-duty trucks for hauling goods, tractors, harvesters, logging, mining, construction, and so on (and locomotives and ships are also dependent on diesel). U.S. Shale “fracked” oil is too light to make diesel, so the U.S. imports 7 mmb/d of foreign crude oil, that mixed with fracked oil can produce diesel. Since only about 12% of a barrel of crude has diesel, there’s no avoiding making gasoline, jet fuel, and other products — so it is gasoline that’s filling up storage, yet we have to keep producing gasoline.

Covid-19 may cause peak oil to come sooner rather than delay it. It’s likely that U.S. fracked oil will decline by half due to covid, as well as conventional, offshore, and deep-sea oil wells as well. All of them, once closed (shut-in) because there’s no more storage, are likely to produce half as much, or less after being opened again. Production beyond that requires a great deal of time and money.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


What is Peak Oil?

Hubbert’s curve shows the theoretical extraction from a single oil well or all oil wells in the World. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

A recurring topic in these discussions is the confusion between resources and production. Let me explain. In the world today there exist enormous, I might even say vast, resources of liquid hydrocarbons (a more appropriate name than oil, because it involves many diverse substances which are not completely equivalent).

If we take a look at just conventional crude oil, there is enough to supply current consumption for about 30 years.

If we include the extra-heavy oils (bitumen), there is enough to cover current consumption for a century.

Intuitive conclusion: there is no problem with oil, or at least not an urgent one. Right?

This is how the mass media sees it, and that is the reason why I decided to create The Oil Crash blog.

What is the reality?

The reality is that it does not matter how much there may be in the subsoil, but the rate at which you can extract it. In other words, what is the production going to be? I will give you an example.

Imagine you are thirsty and want to drink some water. I tell you that there is a glass of water available.

Possibility 1: There is a glass full of water. You take it and you drink it. This is what the world has done with oil since the 19th century up to the first oil crisis in 1970.

Possiblility 2: The water is spread over a smooth surface. You take a straw and, with a lot more effort than in the previous case, you manage to drink the water. This is what the world has done with oil from 1970 to 2000.

Possibility 3: The water is mixed with sand. You have to heat up the sand in a watertight container, condense the water which might evaporate and which ends up in the glass via a distillery, and then you must wait for it to cool down. The process is not perfect, part of the water never evaporates from the sand and part is lost because it comes out of the end of the distillery in the form of gas or it evaporates from the glass because it is still quite hot, and so you recover 2/3 of the original glass. Moreover, the process is really slow and creates a lot of heat, so you feel even more thirsty and the process never takes your thirst away. This is what the world has done with oil from 2000 until 2010.

Possibility 4: There is no liquid water, but I tell you that you can condense it in the air. It is a very slow and inefficient process, but you are thirsty and you have to find water from somewhere. The problem is that you have to keep drinking but the relative humidity of the room keeps going down. There is still a lot of water in the air, but it is extracted more and more slowly each time. You could build a mega-machine in order to “dry out all the air” in one go, but you don’t actually have the resources to do that, so in fact you have to make do with what you have. This is what is happening with oil since 2010.

Obviously, in the real world we have a mixture of the 4 possibilities, from simple oilfield extraction (possibility 1) to the ludicrously expensive oilfield extraction (possibility 4), however as time goes by the simple oilfields are running dry and we are finding ourselves left with the more complicated oilfields.

From time to time you come across economists who tell you, OK, that’s true, but by investing more money and with advances in technology those possibility 4 oilfields will be made profitable and quick. That is a lie. The problem is not the economic profitability of the oilfields but the energetic profitability (in other words, how much energy is gained for every unit of energy expended in obtaining it). If you spend more energy than you manage to extract, then forget it, this extraction will not be energetically profitable and will not therefore be economically profitable for obvious reasons. If you only gain a little bit of energy, then the extraction will certainly not be economically profitable, because there are other costs. In order for an oilfield to be worth extracting, practically, you have to gain much more energy than you spend. And as for technology, the thermodynamics set the limits on the yield given by the processes, limits which you cannot go beyond, and we are already far too close to those limits. There are no big improvements to hope for (there will be improvements, undoubtedly, but they will not be big).

This is the situation we are in now. The liquid hydrocarbon deposits which we have left are bad quality and it is difficult to extract the oil from them. For this reason, oil production will not now increase and will probably fall sharply in the next few years. Oil is not going to finish in 30 years, nor 100, nor 200: it will be here for many more centuries. What will happen is that we will have less of it available as each year passes. When I give a talk I always say that the situation is similar to a person who keeps having their wages reduced. In the beginning they earn £2,000 a month and they’re fine, unworried. Next year their wage is lowered to £1,800 a month and things are still fine. In the next year their wage is lowered to 1,600 and the person starts to get annoyed. The following year it’s lowered to 1,400, and the next it’s lowered to 1,200, then 1,100, then 1,000, then 900, then 850, then 800, then 775… They never stop receiving their wages, but with what they are earning, life gets more and more difficult. This is our situation: our energy wage is going to get smaller and smaller with each year and we will have to learn to live with less and less.

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One Response to Antonio Turiel: Explaining Peak Oil the Easy Way

  1. HayekKhayat says:

    Has Peak Oil-preaching become one and the same as Einstein’s Relativity?

    The spaceship Einstein was put travelling inside at the speed of light, where time stops flowing – has always been felt far-fetched – as the speed of the ship cannot be measured by other than time.

    It cannot be that the ship keeps travelling but Einstein was experiencing the stoppage of time inside it.

    It is either time has or has not stopped for both. If the latter, then neither the ship nor Einstein were travelling, in the first place, at all!

    In Energy, statements like “The reality is that it does not matter how much there may be in the subsoil, but the rate at which you can extract it” – is circular and cannot be true, too.

    how much oil there in the subsoil and how much excess energy and resources humans have to extract it – will always remain the key, or why we see today countless depleted and abandoned oil wells and fields all over the world, regardless of the intensity and density of drilling?

    Knowingly or unknowingly, humans are keeping carefully re-crafting the concept of EROEI another open-ended Relativity!

    It is likely the statement is another reflection on an old desperate dream of humans that Energy resources around them are limitless – falsely assuring themselves their continuity will be easier and easier achieved over time – against nature and its harsh unforgiving laws of physics.

    This is what likely has also influenced and unconsciously made Sadi Carnot, James Maxwell, Rudolf Clausius, Boltzmann, Einstein, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Hayek, Keynes, Huxley, Orwell and many others – ignoring to ask where the energy will come from for their systems to keep running – decade in decade out?

    Since the early steam engine, Economics and its Invisible Hand of Adam Smith, on the other hand, never had enough of all this false dream, etched in the DNA of every human, selling it back to the commons of us in Relativity, Quantum Energy, Fusion, Mars, AI, Technocracy, 5th Industrial Revolution – and now a pair of rubber gloves, a mask, a testing kit, a doze of vaccine, a syringe, a tag, a record, a treatment, a funeral, a grave for every human on earth – fighting a pandemic!

    As in the middle ages, the pandemic today is making old humans beliefs coming crashing in sets and scores at once – Relativity, Turiel’s rate of oil production, AI, Robotics, Mars, Fusion, EVs, Renewable Energy, New World Order, a forever-lasting Nanny UN, a forever-lasting Nanny WHO – and the list goes on and on and on…

    The better explanation of Peak Oil today is likely to be:

    “The tide of Fracking is now out and it becomes clearer that for the last 400 years since Sir Issac Newton, humans were deceptively made swimming the Western Civilization naked, all-along”.

    Once the dust of this seemingly very long pandemic well settles, humans need to start another ages-long struggle for making the ‘Magna Carta’ overhauled to include items on their rights to know what really is Energy.

    Good luck.