Leapfrogging past peak oil

For some pundits, peak oil and natural gas is a crisis that could lead to a collapse of modern industrial society and widespread misery. While we agree on the need to raise public awareness about the potential of peaking oil and gas, we are less impressed with doomsday scenarios regarding it. We are more concerned about adverse economic, social, military and environmental consequences of expanding traditional energy supplies.

For some, the solution to our energy woes is a willingness to pay any price to increase both domestic and international energy supplies to meet the projected demand. In their view, all we need to do is use immense resources of oil, natural gas and coal, and turn them into electricity and liquid fuels so we can continue on our merry way.

Internationally, intense competition for energy resources raises the specter of unending wars to secure energy supplies. Nationally, the quest for energy has led to a rollback of environmental controls, ongoing efforts to secure new supplies from the western states, Alaska and coastal areas, and increased consumption of coal.

The High Country News has an ongoing series of articles about adverse environmental impacts of the no-holds-barred energy developments in the west. A huge natural gas deposit exists in Wyoming’s upper Green River Basin. According to Brian Maffy, the deposit exceeds 300 trillion cubic feet, enough to fuel the nation’s current rate of consumption for 14 years.

The Green River Basin is set to experience its first coalbed methane development, and it, too, is raising concerns. In the nearby Powder River Basin, 80,000 methane wells will soon spread over a million acres. In an editorial in the High County News, Ray Ring laments the destruction of habitats and wildlife from energy developments. Since the gas is used to generate electricity for Los Angeles, he wonders how to help the average consumer realize adverse consequences the simple act of turning on an electrical switch has on a distant setting.

Another proposed solution to our energy situation is massive importation of liquified natural gas and natural gas liquids from extensive supplies in the Middle East, Africa and Russia. It is hard to see any wisdom in increasing our reliance on imported natural gas with its associated dependency and costs.

The prospect of importing liquefied natural gas is considered a direct threat to the rapid deployment of solar energy in California. Solar and wind advocates claim the western states have renewable resources in excess of all current U.S. energy needs.

The OPEC cartel exists to limit energy supplies, maximize profits, keep the world hooked on oil and natural gas, and delay the transition to alternative forms of energy. As producers, they are in the best position to know whether oil and natural gas supplies are peaking. It is in their best interest to keep that knowledge to themselves since both energy and knowledge of it are sources of economic and political power.

Time will tell whether peak oil and gas are urgent problems today or merely a rerun of an old theme—limit energy production, drive up prices, use fear to convince the public of the necessity of abandoning environmental constraints, and industry will deliver the energy to run the economy.

Although their energy profits are immense, they still want incentives to increase supplies paid for by taxpayers.

As he did in the 1970s, Amory Lovins challenges conventional energy wisdom. He remains steadfast in his belief that we can maintain our current levels of energy services while using less energy, saving money while doing it. Along with fellow authors, Lovins charts a roadmap for getting the United States off oil completely at lower costs while strengthening the economy. The keys to success involve doubling fuel efficiency and substituting biofuels and natural gas for oil. Essentially, the roadmap leapfrogs right past peak oil and offers another technological solution to our most recent energy crisis.

As proved to be the case in our last energy crisis, Lovins has some useful ideas. We will provide more details about how we can succeed in Winning the Oil Endgame in future articles.

From the Jan. 4-10, 2006, issue

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