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Monday, August 01, 2005

Peak Oil--the Hirsch report

Richard Heinberg, author of The Party's Over and Powerdown, writes about a recent report on peak oil entitled Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation and Risk Management. The report was prepared by one of those shadowy think-tanky organizations, SAIC, whose name keeps popping up in connection with various creepy things going on around the world. SAIC prepared the report for the US Dopartment of Energy. I haven't read the report yet, but according to Heinberg:
The Hirsch report examines three scenarios: one in which mitigation efforts are not undertaken until global oil production peaks; a second in which efforts commence ten years in advance of peak; and a third in which efforts begin twenty years prior to the peak. Each scenario assumes a "crash program rate of implementation." In the first case, the study concludes that peak will leave the world with a "significant liquid fuels deficit for more than two decades" that "will almost certainly cause major economic upheaval"; even with a ten-year lead time for mitigation efforts government intervention will be required and the world will experience a ten-year fuel shortfall. A crash program initiated twenty years ahead of the event will offer "the possibility" of avoiding a fuel shortfall. The report emphasizes repeatedly that both supply- and demand-side mitigation options will take many years to implement and will cost "literally trillions of dollars"; it also notes that "the world has never faced a problem like this."

The Hirsch report concludes that substantial mitigation of the economic, social, and political impacts of Peak Oil can come only from efforts both to increase energy supplies from alternative sources and to reduce demand for oil. With regard to the claim that efficiency measures by themselves will be enough to forestall dire impacts, Hirsch et al. note that, "While greater end-use efficiency is essential, increased efficiency alone will be neither sufficient nor timely enough to solve the problem. Production of large amounts of substitute liquid fuels will be required." Further, "Mitigation will require a minimum of a decade of intense, expensive effort, because the scale of liquid fuels mitigation is inherently extremely large." Hirsch, et al., also point out that "The problems associated with world oil production peaking will not be temporary, and past 'energy crisis' experience will provide relatively little guidance."
Evidence is growing that peak oil will happen, or has happened, some time in this current decade. The twenty years preceding the event have been spent on building suburbs, globalizing the economy, introducing automobiles in huge numbers into China and India, and in dozens of other ways doing exactly the opposite of what needed to be done. Like I said before, we live in interesting times.