An Oil, Energy, and Alternatives FAQ

Over the past two years I’ve had the chance to give presentations on energy in front of different audiences, and have enjoyed the discussions that followed. However, I’ve found that there’s a lot of background material that needs covering on energy, economics, oil, growth, ecology, etc. that makes it difficult to get the conversation going.

Since the background for many of these topics isn’t found in one place, I thought I’d post a collection of articles that best summarize / provide analysis on how these pieces fit together. My goal here is to catalog some of the best empirically supported articles on the subject that I’ve seen.  I’m avoiding articles on the broader implications of peak oil and related energy challenges because I want to just lay out the basics.

First, lately some of the best quantitative summary / background materials have come from Tom Murphy.  I was heartened (if a little worried, because the projections aren’t pretty) to see that he came to roughly the same conclusions I had come to after examining some of the same data and some different data.

Tom Murphy on peak oil—describes the data, the trends, and the likely challenges.

Peak oil leads to many “but what about…” questions, and I’ve tried to include some of the best articles on several such questions (I’m sure there are other important ones I’m not thinking of).

Is oil production economically constrained? How do the economics play out?

Chris Skrebowski on the economics of peak oil—describes how we’ll likely reach peak affordable oil around the time geologically-oriented projections indicate we’d reach peak oil production.

James Hamilton on the role of speculation in oil markets—describes how speculation isn’t a major factor in the price of oil except at the extremes.

Robert Hirsch on the basic relationship of oil production and GDP growth—describes how there may be a rough 1 to 1 correspondence between the rate of oil production decline and the rate of GDP decline.

Gail Tverberg on whether GDP / energy decoupling is possible—describes how it’s probably not possible.

Isn’t there more oil out there?

Jeffrey Brown on how “peaks happen”—describes how fields peak regardless of the circumstances, and how net exports end up constraining available oil even further.

Stuart Staniford on Saudi Arabia—describes how they can’t or won’t increase production. Also on how Iraq is only increasing production very slowly.

Gail Tverberg also on Saudi Arabia—comes to similar conclusions.

Jonathan Callahan on the limits of domestic shale oil—how at best it’ll offset the decline in Alaskan oil production for a little while.

What about alternative energy?

I reviewed David Fridley’s article on many general problems with alternative energy sources. I also considered possible alternatives and how well we might be able to transition to them.

Tom Murphy on “The Energy Trap”—describes how an alternative energy transition is difficult / unlikely because it takes up-front energy to build the infrastructure.

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