Monday, November 30, 2009

Fueling the Modern Economy

Colin Cambell, a 40+ year petroleum geologist and the founder of the international Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO), sums up the unique set of circumstances that leave us in a difficult situation when it come to the future of our energy systems.  He says,
When people think of fossils, they think of dinosaurs, which were huge over-specialized animals that failed to adapt to changed natural circumstances, proving less efficient than the simple limpet that has lived virtually unchanged since the Cambrian, 500 million years ago, happily clinging to its rocks. Fossil fuels have almost dinosaur attributes, having been formed but rarely in the geological past, which means they are subject to depletion. The production in any country, endowed with the resource, starts and ends, passing a peak in between when about half the resources has been taken. Oil is perhaps an extreme example, given that it has played such a critical part in fueling the modern economy.
This is up there with some of the most earthshaking perdigm shifts that have happened throughout human history. Imaging the impact of the "Theory" that the earth was round and it was us that circled the Sun and not the other way around. At this point in history we face the prospect that all of easy to get to and relatively inexpensive oil has been extracted. This fact, if proven to ultimately have been true, will have an effect on almost everything we have become dependent on to maintain our current societal arrangment. These are the challenges which come along once in a while, where civilizations either rise to the occasion or whither on the time line of human history.

I am betting on a rise.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Story of Oil

Native Americans for centuries have used oil as a medicine and for waterproofing of canoes as well other objects.

The first discovery of oil by Europeans from North America probably came in 1627 by a Franciscan missionary traveling near Cuba, New York. In 1821, William Hart drilled for and discovered gas at Fredonia, New York, near the shores of Lake Erie, making him the first to do so. A primitive pipeline was constructed from hollowed-out logs, and soon the entire main street was illuminated by natural gas.

On January 10, 1901, on a small hill in southeastern Texas, after drilling down to a depth of 1,020 feet, mud started bubbling back up the hole. Seconds later, the drill pipe shot out of the ground with great force. Then a noise like a cannon shot came from the hole, and mud came shooting out of the ground like a rocket. Within a few seconds, natural gas, then oil followed.

The first oil "gusher" - greenish-black in color, rose double the size of the drilling derrick, rising to a height of more than 150 feet. This was more oil than had ever been seen anywhere in the entire world. flowing at an initial rate of nearly 100,000 barrels per day. This amount, while small today, was at the time more oil than all of the other producing wells in the United States COMBINED!

Since that time, geologists have mapped over 95% of the earth's surface and have estimated that the "total" amount of oil that was in the ground is approximately 2,000,000,000,000 - two trillion barrels. That sound like a lot of oil, and it is. It is also unbelievable to consider, that in the last 100 years humanity has consumed about half of this oil - about 1 trillion barrels of oil.

So much of the debate today is weather we are going to run out of oil or if we have reached a peak in production and what effects that may have on our lifestyles. Let me be perfectly clear, humanity will NEVER run out of oil. There is lots more of it. The challenge facing us is that we have located and pumped out almost all of the easy to find oil.
We are at the end of the age of inexpensive oil.
The oil which remains is both very hard to reach and is of a much lower quality than what we have been pumping for the past 100 years. If people are willing to pay $7.00 a gallon for their gas it will be available but a lot of folks will not be able to afford to drive at that price. Oil priced at $200 or more per barrel will increase the cost of everything that uses oil in its production or transportation... and that covers almost everything these days.

We live in interesting times and from my perspective, it is only going to get much more interesting.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Decentralize Food as Well as Power

Now that the "official" unemployment figures are at least 10.2 percent, it seems like a great time to focus on what kind of recovery we can collectivly create. As I have posted a number of times on this blog, the chances of returning to a debt and consumpution fueled ecomony are pretty small.

San Francisco Fed President Dr. Yellen asked today how strong the upturn will be. With high unemployment and idle productive capacity, we will need a very strong rebound to put unemployed people back to work and get underutilized factories, offices, and stores humming again. Traditional demand will most probably grow at too slow a pace to support vigorous expansion in the traditional markets. So what are we to do instead?

I suggest we take a step back and see what areas we desperately need to grow and begin pouring stimulus funds in those directions instead of our habit of propping up industries which may be past their usefulness and do not support the creation of a lower-carbon and more sustainable society. The efforts by the Federal and many State governments to encourage a green economy could be a great start. Supporting renewable energy technologies and an infrastructure to support it is already receiving much attention and is gain traction. Another segment worth immediate attention is food production.

The move to decentralize our power generation system should be followed by the creation of thousands of smaller more localized farms. These can create tens of thousands of productive jobs, will help to increase local food security and improve the freshness of our food by bringing it closer to where it is consumed. A Colorado company is pioneering a concept they call Agriburbia which combines residential and commercial development with local food production. Growing vegetables and raising small farm animals close to home may turn out to be one of the most important steps we can make to begin to rehire people who have lost their jobs while building local resilience.

Monday, November 9, 2009

An Example of A Virtual Eco-Village

This 1-minute video was made by Rebecca Mangum to highlight the features of Etopia Island a 32-acre virtual ecovillage in Second Life. You may visit the community at any time by going to this link and downloading the Second Life viewer.