Sunday, July 25, 2010

Oilpatch engineer replies to peak oil activist

As posted on Energy Bulletin's site:

One of the pleasures of editing Energy Bulletin is publishing a wide variety of views. Sometimes they clash, and the results can be fascinating.
This time, the clash is between two regular contributors, oilpatch engineer Martin B. Payne and long-time peak oil activist and writer, Jan Lundberg, publisher of Culture Change. On July 4, we published Martin's article "Take this opportunity to unite our country, not divide it". Jan wrote some comments to me (as EB editor) and I asked his permission to post them at the bottom of that article. They are as follows:

I see the author is basically an oil man and in good standing with API. But just because such a person acknowledges peak oil, does that make his statements worthy when they have no ecological sense or concern for the climate? He's also close-minded to life-style change.
I know that it's foolish to believe people cannot go car-free overnight. Also, if fossil fuels are "part of what we are," then we deserve to drown in a BP blowout. The blurb you put on the home page for the article looked intriguing, although the title of his piece obviously pegged him as someone not subscribing to collapse likelihood. He doesn't get Hirsch. Hirsch did not say we have 20 years for a transition (Payne says "during the transition"). Hirsch said that we had 20 years before peak.
In the following article, Martin Payne steps back and gives full voice to "the enlightened fossil fuel professional."
Interestingly, the dividing line between activist and oilman is not as sharp as first appears. Before turning to activism, Jan worked for many years in the family business, Lundberg Survey, which reports on the US petroleum marketing industry.
And as you will read below, oilman Payne betrays shocking patches of green.
(The iniitial article is posted here.)
Thanks for the comments, Mr. Lundgren. ... There is a lot of emotion out there. If we could bottle it up, use it for positive purposes, we’d have the “free energy” Tesla evidently took to his grave!
So, to get started - to find that common ground that Bart referred to in order to solve these problems - we need to start by avoiding the use of stereotypes. I don’t know Mr. Lundgren, and any stereotype I might choose for him would be an unfair, simplistic description for someone who is likely one of those folks who “proudly defies classification”. Being stereotyped really didn’t upset me; in fact, it reminded me, once again, how stereotypes often prevent us from building bridges and making progress on really important issues.
On Climate Change
I believe it was Dr. Hirsch, at one of the ASPO-USA conferences, who said that yes, climate change may be a problem, but the problem of Peak Oil is much more pressing, and will impact the world sooner than the problems of climate change. Further, the solutions for Peak Oil - and Peak Oil itself - will tend to reduce carbon emissions. Even if we ramp up our exploration efforts (which is essential), my belief is that - based on the work of Dr. Campbell and Dr. Hirsch - we will be using 3 – 5 % less oil each year, within a few years. This reduction in oil production/consumption will add up in a hurry (one of the key points of the Hirsch Report timeline).
Without opening the debate on whether man has caused or exacerbated climate change, it should be pointed out that 13,000 years ago, sea levels were about 250 feet lower. In other words, sea level has risen about 250 feet in 13,000 years. Further, about 79 million years prior to that, where I now sit was covered with about 150 feet of seawater. The Earth Chamber of Commerce website should include the bullet point: “climate subject to significant, periodic change”.
On Lifestyle Change
As I pointed out in the article, I believe that we should be “transitioning how we live, work and eat.” I don’t know how else to suggest lifestyle change. One of my near term goals is to work more towards providing good examples and paths for these “changes”. The good news is that although we have a long way to go, progress is being made.
On Current Dependence on Fossil Fuels
If we’re not addicted to fossil fuels, if they are not ingrained in everything – then Peak Oil is a non-issue.
We had the oil, we used the oil. It allowed quantum leaps in quality of life, life span, medicine and materials, among other things. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight we can say we “wasted” a lot of oil, as well, depending on your frame of reference. The abundance of concentrated energy led to a dependence on same – it would be hard to debate otherwise. This abundance also led to some lifestyles – like suburbia – which were unsustainable. I don’t think anyone planned suburbia in a malicious fashion, nor is anyone even culpable by omission. Suburbia is just a result of using what we had. Currently, suburban sprawl is working its way towards the history books. Rather than wasting time beating ourselves up as to “how stupid we were”, we need to look forward, not backward. We need to figure out how to wisely use what we have to transition to the next lifestyles, the next economy. To get there, we need oil, gas and coal. So take a roughneck or a coal miner to lunch!
So, you ride a bike or walk? Sure, you use far less energy. But the bike is made of coal (smelted aluminum and iron) and oil (tires, seat, plastic), then it is painted with oil. It’s a Gary Fisher, you say? OK, clear-coated with oil, or anodized with coal. Your Nikes or Chacos are pure oil, plus some coal (Chinese electricity) toted over on a smoky, Bunker No. 6-burning container ship. Your PV system (and mine): oil (plastic) and coal (aluminum), in combination with coal (electricity to make the smelt the silicon, refine the cadmium and tellurium), plus some more coal (electricity) to run the plant. And those coal plants which make the electricity to make these “clean energy” solar cells (of yours and mine) are over in China, where they can’t be protested. They’re out of sight and out of mind, unless you’re Chinese and breathing the effluent of a plant which no doubt has far fewer scrubbers and precipitators than those required in the US.
The point is, currently and for the foreseeable future, we are all dependent on these extractive industries, and fossil fuels. So we all need to work together - and not demonize industries that we need - even as we transition to lifestyles with far lower energy usage and local energy production using alternatives.
On the Hirsh Report
I have been a follower of the Hirsch Report since 2004-2005 when it was located exclusively on the “Hilltop Lancers” high school website (I think I found it there due to the Energy Bulletin). I have been familiar with Hubbert’s Peak and a student of oil supply since the mid-1980’s. Even so, when I read the Hirsch Report for the first time - saw who wrote it, who commissioned it - it really sent a chill up my spine. I have had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Hirsch on several occasions – both times at ASPO-USA conferences – in Sacramento and Denver. Observing how his report has no doubt affected him, personally – sent another chill up my spine.
In this most recent posting, I paraphrased the time periods stated in the Hirsch Report, for simplicity. Frankly, yesterday’s gone, and it’s what we do today and tomorrow that counts. None of us knows the timing exactly. We do know that we best “get going”. Recently I have tried to “tone it down” a bit: I think the “imminent crisis” theme turns off certain groups of folks. Regardless, there are lots of writers already making the “crisis case”, so it would seem that another approach might reach incremental people. Namely, it’s easy, fun and fashionable to use less oil, and less energy in general. Anyway, a long-winded explanation for why I simplified the Hirsch Report conclusions.
For the record, I have published the Hirsch Report conclusions in detail, previously, in “The coming liquid fuels crisis: The natural gas (partial) solution”, as excerpted here:

Many of us in the "Peak Oil community" believe that in 2008, the worldwide rate of oil production likely reached a level which, for all practical purposes, will never again be exceeded. In other words, we believe Peak Oil likely occurred in 2008. Dr. Hirsch, in the 2005 report he co-authored for the Department of Energy, said the following:
  • "Initiating a mitigation crash program 20 years before peaking appears to offer the possibility of avoiding a world liquid fuels shortfall for the forecast period."
  • "Initiating a mitigation crash program 10 years before world oil peaking helps considerably but still leaves a liquid fuels shortfall roughly a decade after the time that oil would have peaked."
  • "Waiting until world oil production peaks before taking crash program action leaves the world with a significant fuel deficit for more than two decades." (emphasis added) Additionally, he went on to say, "Late initiation of mitigation may result in severe consequences."
Perhaps we could say that some of the actions taken over the last several years - due to oil price signals - would count for a year or two of preparation; essentially, though, we are set up for Dr. Hirsch's "severe consequences" scenario.
On Collapse
I am against it. I have read all the books and blogs, from Jared Diamond to the Olduvai Theory to Jay Hanson, and on. The Rainwater Prophecy is linked on the blog. But so long as we are not yet “collapsed”, there is the potential for the great ingenuity of the people of our country and the world to ultimately prevail. I won’t give up hope or effort, and I trust that a lot of others won’t, either. I’m just not a fatalist; I believe we can make a difference. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we won’t have “severe consequences” to deal with.
The reality is - although there is a long ways to go, there is also “a lot going on”, much of it over the last five years. None of these steps, taken alone, will “save the world”. Symbolically, however, they represent changes in behavior and belief that if continued and extended, will have meaningful effects:
  • Vegetable gardening – interest has blossomed in the last few years (just ask the folks in the garden department of Home Depot).
  • Local food movement – on fire in various cities, all over the country; Farmer’s Markets are popping up everywhere.
  • Grassfed beef, pastured poultry, pork – healthier, less energy intensive; can provide scalable starting places for new family farms.
  • Backyard chicken movement – growing everywhere, it seems; keeping chickens is “cool”, now.
  • Vehicle choices – change is ongoing; there are fewer trucks and large SUV's, more small cars.  
  • Reusable grocery bags – a small but important and symbolic step; usage is trending upwards.
  • Smaller, more efficient houses – witness the plethora of news coverage and books about smaller or “tiny” houses; the McMansion is no longer cool.
  • Small energy production – innovators continue to advance small wind, PV, solar thermal, woodgas, alcohol, algae, biodiesel, and more.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Editorial Notes ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
UPDATED (July 17): Added full text of Jan's comments at at the beginning. -BA
Martin Payne is an Energy Bulletin contributor.
Mr. Payne is an "upstream oil and gas professional with over 25 years of experience. Past Chairman, Houston Chapter of the American Petroleum Institute (API). Member of American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE), American Solar Energy Society (ASES)."
His blog is Peak Opportunities.

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