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back to article RIP: Peak Oil - we won't be running out any time soon

The idea that seized the imaginations of the bien pensant chattering classes in the Noughties – "Peak Oil" – is no longer relevant. So says the commodities team at Citigroup, and policy-makers would be wise to examine the trends they've identified. "Peak Oil" is the point at which the production of conventional crude oil begins …

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Ummm....

So Peak Oil is dead because we've gotten a bit better at extracting the still by-definition limited fuels in question from underground? I'm all for human ingenuity as a solution to the problem, but I'd much prefer a renewable option, eg those clever folk in California working on genetically-modified bacteria that can photosynthesize hydrocarbons.

I think you and I have different ideas of what the point of Peak Oil actually *was*, Andrew.

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Reading Comprehension.

I take it you read the article and therefore the part where Andrew mentioned that in a decade the Syntetic Hydrocarbon business will be amping up to replace oil?

Thought not.

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'Renewables' still doesnt stack up numbers wise.

The actual solar flux is not really enough to give mankind what it wants without dedicating absolutely enormous tracts of land or sea to growing whatever biofuel or not we deem we need.

The last time we did this sort of thing was the invention of agriculture, of which it has been said '"The deserts of the middle east and North Africa are the direct result of 10,000 years of organic farming" .

Renewable energy (so called) has an enormous environmental impact - comparable at least to the total destruction of Brazilian rain forest for farming and the like, so beloved of ecotards.

One can imagine a plankton floating in the seas and oceans..but to generate a fraction of the fuel we need would mean HUGE oceansful of it, with an impact that is totally incalculable - till some lunatic actually lest it loose.

And since so called "renewable energy" is, in the end nothing more then nuclear energy by proxy, why not cut out the middle man and build the nuclear reactors instead?

Far less damaging to the environment

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@Itzman

Yes, silly 'ecotards' for liking rainforests. We should burn these worthless things right away, because people who think they are good are retarded.

I think maybe the thing here that is a 'tard' is your argument.

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Boffin

Re: Reading Comprehension.

Synthetic hydrocarbons, whilst promising for the future are not necessarily a panacea. To produce these requires an energy input of at least the amount that can be gained from burning them. In practice, due to the laws of thermodynamics, the input will be greater than the output. Synthetic hydrocarbons, then, are a potential answer to energy storage, but the generation problem persists. If we keep burning oil and gas that we dig out of the ground for this enegery generation, without replacing them with something renewable (most likley a combination of solar, wind, tidal, hydroelectricity and geothermal production, and maybe one day fusion), then we will run out. Just because we have revised the estimate of the point where we will start to burn more than we can extract from the ground a little way into the future does not mean it won't happen. Fossil fuels are not inexhaustible.

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@Loyal Commenter

Erm, you might want to read the post before unleashing castigation.

ltzman was pointing out that large-scale "renewables" of all current technologies requires destruction of similar orders of magnitude as cutting down the Brazilian rainforests for farming - something that is generally considered a bad idea.

On a small scale they seem ok, even useful - solar panels on your roof, couple of wind turbines nearby, tidal generator in a couple of easy and effective places, the odd field of biofuel.

The trouble happens once you start to scale it up to the kinds of size a country needs - solar, wind and biofuels use massive land area, tidal destroys very large intertidal habitat, and then all except biofuels require near-equal capacity generation to be on warm or even hot standby - burning plenty of gas or biofuels to do sweet FA in case the wind drops/sun goes behind clouds and spun up in time for sunset/tide change.

Unless of course you're ok with the idea of simply blacking out large parts of the country very often, and probably doing a cold start of the Grid once or twice a year. Hint - we've never done a cold start, and don't really know if we even can.

The only current "zero-carbon" technology that doesn't require large-scale destruction is nuclear fission.

Funny that.

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Re: Re: Reading Comprehension.

"Fossil fuels are not inexhaustible."

Yes. That's why ultimately we cannot go by without fission or fusion.

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Re: Re: Reading Comprehension.

"Synthetic hydrocarbons...to produce these requires an energy input of at least the amount that can be gained from burning them...the input will be greater than the output... a potential answer to energy storage"

You ARE aware that the input is sunlight, aren't you? This isn't like generating electricity by burning fuels and then storing it with pumped water. This is GROWING stuff - photosynthesis - thereby capturing energy from the sun (and CO2) and then burning it later.

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Meh

" modern industrial society is founded on a resource which is being depleted and which cannot be easily replaced"

That's completely true actually. New techniques and sources mean that instead of production peaking now, maybe it will peak in 20, 50, 100 years. Instead of running out in 50 years, maybe we will run out in 200. The relevant principles are still the same - the advances in oil / gas extraction will just buy us a bit more time to prepare for a post-oil future. (Certainly there can be synthetic oils used as energy STORE, but they will need an external energy source to synthesise so cannot be considered to be an energy SOURCE themselves)

So we still need to develop an energy supply that is cheap (both in terms of cash and environmental impact) and can scale up to Giga- and Tera- Watts, and can reliably work for many centuries. That means next-gen nuclear - pebble-bed, thorium breeder and so on. Wind is terrible for many reasons discussed here in el reg. Hydro and geothermal are limited geographically. Solar is looking more promising but will still be limited to hot desertified areas.

All things considered, I'd much rather we work on developing these other sources now rather than burn all the remaining gas and oil and then start looking for alternatives. So pushing back peak oil is a good thing, however let's not bury our collective heads in the (tar) sands about long-term issues

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Re: Reading Comprehension.

Is that going to be the same decade that actually brings us 10 years closer to commercial Fusion?

I'll believe in commercially viable synthetic hydrocarbons when they hit the market and cost less than "natural" petrol. Until then they go in the same stack with fusion, super capacitors, ultra fast charging batteries for electric cars and super efficiency solar cells. All of which have been 10 to 20 years off for the last 30+ years.

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@Richard12

Agree 100% that it's stupid to cut down huge swathes of rainforest to build windmills, and in general, yes, alternative energy produces very low energy densities and needs vast tracts of land. And I also agree 100% that we should go nuclear in a big way. However I don't completely diss renewables as there are still many applications / locations that can have a huge energy production potential.

The Sahara is more than 9mln km^2 and gets f**kloads of sunlight. Even covering just a tiny fraction of that it solar panels would be enough for the energy needs of most African countries north of the equator. That's the energy needs of close to half a billion people, a bit more than 7% of worldwide population. Similair things can also be done in places such as Australia, Atacama, North American midwest, Gobi...

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Boffin

Re: @Richard12

Renewables have their place. The Gobi, Sahara, most of Southwest USA, etc for solar (and wind in some cases). Solar is more likely than wind turbines to give decent returns. Wave (tidal) turbines are a good start too, but the best move forward would be nuclear plants. With huge amounts of electricity available at fractions of the cost of power today, electric-only cars, trains, equipment, etc would take off in a big way. Imagine proximity chargers (induction or otherwise) under parking stalls at Walmart (or just plugs, either way), down freeway stretches, at the employee parking at work, etc. Your furnace would be electric rather than gas. Hot water would be electric rather than gas. Another big thing would be the readily available electricity for the fusion reactor experiments, since those take the power of an entire city (or more!) to actually get the reactor jump-started (and running, since they're not self-sustaining yet).

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Re: 'Renewables' still doesnt stack up numbers wise.

@itzman

That depends upon which renewable you're looking at and which technologies you use in it's production. Enough algae for enough biofuel to supply the entire United States could be grown on land equivalent to the size of New Mexico. That's still a good chunk of land, I grant you that's still a lot of land, but nowhere near what it would take to accomplish the same job with solar or wind.

Also, renewables are just as subject, if not moreso, to technological advances. Solar power WILL get more efficient if we put some effort into improving it, just as pulling oil out of the ground will.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @Richard12

"And I also agree 100% that we should go nuclear in a big way".

Nice to know. I'm sure if you were to submit your address as a proposed site for a nuclear power station, your neighbours may not agree with you. And I'm guessing you really wouldn't be too keen on the idea yourself, if you're really honest.

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Anonymous Coward

burn these worthless rainforests

Great idea, but they're buggers to set light !

Too damp from all the rain, you see...

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Unhappy

3.3 Trillion Proven Barrels of Oil and Counting

The U.S. alone has at least 1.5 trillion barrels of "proven" oil shale reserves in the Colorado and Wyoming. And this does not include oil shale in the eastern U.S. like Pennsylvania. And these do not include the 1.8 trillion proven reserves of oil sands in Canada. Technology reinvents peak oil. Of course, all this oil will not be good for the environment but neither would a gigantic volcanic eruption like Mount Pinatubo back in 1991, which spewed more CO2 into the atmosphere than the entire industrial age had up until that point.

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Re: 3.3 Trillion Proven Barrels of Oil and Counting

Remind us, please. How much oil does it take to make a barrel of oil from shale or sand?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: 3.3 Trillion Proven Barrels of Oil and Counting

Time to filter volcanoes, obviously.

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Re: Re: @Richard12

I agree that you will find that most people - no matter how vocal in their support for nuclear - do not wish to have a reactor built next door. Then again you will also find that most people don't wish to have any sort of power station built next door even though they're likely to agree that power stations in general are a good idea.

Is it really any surprise that people don't want massive industrial sites built near their homes?

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Re: 'Renewables' still doesnt stack up numbers wise.

As someone who has a grid-tied solar array, solar works very well for me:

The solar array is sized so that it covers my entire annual electrical use. I'm considering adding another 8 panels to cover the annual power requirements to "fuel" a Volt for 10,000 miles of driving per year.

It's that simple. So, while solar is not the full answer to society's power need, it can be a very good option for many, many Americans - especially those who are independent-minded, and prefer not to rely on others.

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Re: @Richard12

"alternative energy produces very low energy densities and needs vast tracts of land"

Well, here's a practical example to counter your hypothesis. I've got a 4 Kw solar grid-tied array. It occupies a 13 x 30 foot patch of my roof. It's not noticeable, makes no noise, emits nothing but power, and it provides all the electricity my family uses over the course of a year.

So, how "impractical" are alternative energy sources? For many, many people alternative energy is VERY practical.

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Not Dead - merely sleeping

I for one am glad this is the nail in the coffin of PO as a global apolocolpse.

However if we contrain the "vector" as Andrew puts in - we should still be aware that naturally occurring supplies of Oil and Gas will run out and that there is still an onus on Humanity to come up with synthetic replacements, and alternative energy sources. (Note not necessarily alternative in the Green sense)

We still need a Step change in Power Generation, and Im willing to bet that many of the synthetic alternatives to Gas and Oil (for example as plastics rather than fuel) will require significantly greater energy inputs than extraction of the naturally occuring stuff.

In short grounds for optimism but lets not get too cocky too soon. As a species we must always trust that our ingeniuity will win the day - and beware the doomsayers that spread enough FUD to make us doubt the effort.

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Re: Not Dead - merely sleeping

"...thanks to technological advances, Peak Oil is dead"

As above, not dead, just not here at the moment. Dinosaurs aren't dying like they used to you know! ;)

"the US well count has increased 500 per cent in three years"

One of us can't read the graph you've used. It shows a change from 400 to 1000 wells over 3 years. The change from 200 -> 1000 isn't over a 3 year period.

Even taking 200 -> 1000, that's 5x, which is 400% (2x = 100% increase, 3x = 200% etc). So, it actually increased 150% in 3 years based on that graph (or 400% in 2.5 years). Funny what you can make numbers show innit? :)

I agree that we shouldn't be running around in urgent panic about availability of gas/oil quite yet, but that won't reduce oil prices. They're nicely tied up and will remain so.

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Boffin

@Ross 7

Speaking of fiddling with the numbers, anyone else notice how that first graph doesn't cross the axis at zero, therefore making a ~5% variation look like a ~200% one. Lies, Damn Lies, etc...

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Flame

Re: Re: Not Dead - merely sleeping

Why has oil well count become a useful metric all of a sudden?

Its because oil prices have gone up, making smaller reserves economical. Sorry but this was obvious, and irrelevant, for years.

Strange how there isn't a graph showing oil production.

Instead the problem is "redefined" away to include synthetic oil. Well, duh! the whole point was that fossil fuel is a finite resource, and energy needs to come from somewhere else. It was "Peak OIL" not "Peak ENERGY".

And someone who points out oil production (from fossil sources) can't rise forever is just saying a trite point of physics. of course it can't. Why are they "Eco-tards"?

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Headmaster

Re: Re: Not Dead - merely sleeping

@Ross 7

Two points:

"Dinosaurs aren't dying like they used to you know! ;)"

I'm really hoping the smiley at the end means you know oil doesn't now and never has come from dinosaurs.

"It shows a change from 400 to 1000 wells over 3 years."

Actually the graph doesn't show anything at all about the number of wells as it shows the number of rigs; you can tell from the part of the caption that reads "US oil rig count". It's a distinction with a difference. You see a well is a hole that has been drilled and it may be actively producing or not and may even be "dry". A rig is the drill that makes the hole. Rigs move from site to site making wells but once the well is done the rig moves to the site of the next proposed well. Since a well may be dry or inactive a well count wouldn't tell us much and just as bad the rig count doesn't say if that is the number of total rigs or active rigs. I assume it should be an active rig count as there isn't much point in counting rigs that are down.

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This is all very well..(sixc!) but...

..for unconventional extraction to be viable, oil prices have to go high and stay high.

And, in the limit when it takes the same energy to get a barrel of oil out, as is in it (times a putative 35% efficiency of using that energy) its mo longer a viable energy source. What that means is that ALREADY countries like India are moving to nuclear power as coal and oil becomes expensive..

In short peak oil wont happen because of lack of oil in the ground, it will happen because its price must necessarily climb in real and in energy-of-extraction terms until other technologies - chiefly nuclear power - replace demand and consumption starts to fall.

What I would expect is that there will be perhaps a further decade of increasing extraction and then a slow broad peak followed by decreasing extraction.

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Holmes

Sustainability is ingenuity

Humanity will out because ingenuity will save the day? Maybe sustainability, far from being predicated on a false assumption (PO) is actually the very ingenuity the author is wishing for.

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Pint

Optimism from beyond the grave

"improvements in effeciency"... Well then, give us a call when they break the laws of thermodynamics. I'm sure it is a criminal offence in some jurisdiction.

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PT

Re: Optimism from beyond the grave

Oh don't worry, the Republicans are pledged to repeal those anti-business laws when they get the US Government back.

http://www.theonion.com/articles/christian-right-lobbies-to-overturn-second-law-of,281/

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Dead or delayed?

"...this[PO] is premature." .... "...Peak Oil is dead:"

Which is it? Through the rest of the article it's dead but near the start it's just "premature". Of course, it will happen one day. The fact that we might replace it with something that isn't too disruptive to our society a bit later than anticipated is neither her nor there.

Still - interesting information but a bit hyped up.

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Anonymous Coward

You mentioned fracking.

How long before someone gets all ranty, possibly mentioning the fiction that is gaslands?

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Paris Hilton

So, IIUC, all these trends, figures and predictions mean that fossil fuel is infinite, right?

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Not so much infinite...

...as abundant, provided you find abundant resources elsewhere to help you produce synthetic hydrocarbons. There's already research being conducted into making synthetic fuel (and it's serious research being done by such organizations as the US Department of Defense, who sees homegrown fuel as a step towards logistic security--A Good Thing for their type; more specifically, the Navy already uses reactors on most of their carriers, why not give them an extra job to do that can also help reduce the need to take on jet fuel every so often).

All you really need is a better way of producing thermal or electrical energy. We already have a good bridge to it in modern nuclear reactors (if we can just get past the scare of nuclear excursions--Gen IV reactors take those potentials into consideration, and some designs are designed to prevent runaway reactions), and if we can just wrap our heads around finding a commercially-viable fusion reactor...

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Besides the hypobole (this thinking is proving fatal) and the downright bizarre (resources as "vectors" - whatever that means), the thrust of this article is basically that we don't have to worry about resources running out because, hey, we can invent things.

Do I really have to explain why that's a stupid position? Especially when the article does tacitly accept that human ingenuity has limits.

History is history; stories about whale blubber being displaced are all very interesting, but this liberal arts approach to science policy is as dumb as they come. Yes, you can look at history, you can say "people acted like this back then", and you can invite us to assume that therefore history is merely repeating itself now, and is bound to repeat itself in this way, forever. But it doesn't prove anything, because the invariants in history are human behaviour, not the viability of various technologies. The only human behaviour outlined here is that people worry and start to make plans when prediction indicates problems ahead. Orlowski seems to be advocating a more, shall we say, ostrich-style approach to governance.

And don't even get me started on why Citigroup may have an interest in affecting the commodity prices by releasing a report like this. Orlowski doesn't trust the University of East Anglia, but he trusts Citigroup? Sheesh.

Still, not many people are talented enough to make confirmation bias into a successful career path.

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'And don't even get me started on why Citigroup may have an interest in affecting the commodity prices by releasing a report like this. Orlowski doesn't trust the University of East Anglia, but he trusts Citigroup? Sheesh.'

Exactly. But seeing as he is suddenly so enamoured with the opinions of the analysts at our revered investment banking institutions, it's funny he didn't mention the almost simultaneously released report from Barclays Capital which comes to different conclusions.

Confirmation bias is right.

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Anonymous Coward

@Eddie Edwards - Right on the spot

The biggest danger for humanity is represented by the fact the the investment bankers and not the scientists are leading the world. There are some basic laws of physics that govern the whole universe and those bankers ignore them completely. No amount of creativity will allow humans to bypass these fundamental laws of the universe. Heck, even stars run out of fuel some day. Technically speaking, humanity might be able to adapt although on a much lower scale, however we will never have the time for that. The end of oil era will be extremely brutal for humankind.

We seem to forget that all this advance of the human race is being based on oil. People did not move to oil because the whale blubber became rare, using some inventiveness they could have very well grown them as we do with cattle.

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Re: @Eddie Edwards - Right on the spot

No. Andrew is advocating a return to the view of science as the saviour. The great scientific ashes of the past were hugely optimistic about science. It was assumed that people could solve the great problems of the age. Almost invariably, they did.

The reaction to peak oil, our bankers, or global warming has become 'let's tax it' or the tragic 'we're doomed'.

Today's scientists and engineers are brilliant in an age of brilliance. Technology and science has never progressed as fast as it has, today.

We need to throw our resources behind solving this problem, not wringing hands about howp the latest bogeyman has caused the problem (talking about bankers, seriously, old news guys)

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Anonymous Coward

Having seen presentations from Barclays Capital on the very same, their opinion is that the oil industry is not taking *enough* advantage of marketing / business opportunities for oil exploration and production, if anything it is the markets who would move Peak Oil closer to now, not the oil industry supply chain itself.

The following are incontrovertible facts:

1) Peak Oil is an outdated concept

2) There is still more oil in the ground than we have ever extracted

3) Newer and faster computers means we can model, image and pinpoint reserves (mature and frontier) ever more accurately

4) Frontier areas in the world such as Greenland, Barents Sea, South China Sea, Indonesian / North Australia continental shelf, South Australia & Tasmania, even east Mediterranean and Japan are yielding up their wares, breaking records all the time on new oil and gas finds. Oil is everywhere.

Whether or not it is 'PC' to develop in these areas is the issue, and it remains that we are continuing to find new technologies to:

a) use what oil / gas we do extract ever more efficiently

b) reduce the need for using oil / gas at all

Both a) and b) are in full flight, improvements in technology are happening all the time, we all know we must stop using it, we are just not ready technologically.

My estimate is that most of the oil that has ever existed on this planet will still be there be there time we stop using it completely.

Peak Oil is a myth invented by greedy markets.

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(Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

Excellent point.

That thought struck me when I interviewed Pike a few years ago. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/09/17/richard_pike_rcs_interview/

Bogus scarcity drives up the short-term profits.

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Boffin

@Eddie Edwards

"History is History".

Yes, indeed it is, and you have made it absolutely clear that you believe that only idiots would imagine that it might be possible to learn from it.

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Anonymous Coward

Peak Oil

It doesn't matter how much oil there is left, the question is how much does it cost to get it out of the ground? If it costs a barrel of oil in terms of energy to get a barrel of oil out of the ground, we're screwed. The newer techniques of obtaining crude are costing more and more to recover the oil.

Remember that oil has many important uses other than fuel - plastics and lubricants would be high up the list of stuff we really don't want to go without...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Peak Oil

No to mention clean drinking water for all our cities. How many days can last a big city without clean drinking water ? How about waterless toilets ?

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WTF?

Re: Peak Oil

The cost of a barrel of oil has little to do with known reserves, it is market forces and governments that control the price. In general you may see a gradual trend in increased cost of a barrel over time but the short term variances caused by market uncertainties (e.g. banks spieling about Peal Oil) will largely swamp the figures.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Re: Peak Oil

That would be the cost in terms of energy, not money.

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Facepalm

This is Clarkson-level journalism

The main problem with the ever-more optimistic figures for oil reserves is that the Arabs have a strong incentive to lie about how much they've got left, in order to prop up their currencies, maintain lavish spending and prevent bloody revolutions. I don't believe them at all.

If you do the maths, the amount of oil energy in GWh consumed by the world every day is so vast that it would take an unthinkable number of nuclear power plants or (let's be optimistic) algae swamps to replace it. More than there is probably space for on the planet, in fact. Think how long the dino oil took to make. The Victorians may have obsessed about whale blubber supplies, but they weren't driving cars and they didn't have plastics.

On the bright side, it probably makes no difference to the climate whether we burn the whole lot in the next 20 years or the next 200 years. It's probably worth buying a bicycle though, on balance.

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(Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

Re: This is Clarkson-level journalism

It doesn't matter how much oil the Arabs say they have, we won't be buying oil from them.

We'll be using shale, then synthetics.

I think some people are going to have a great difficulty adjusting to reality.

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Re: Re: Wind: When: The: Crowd: Says: Bo: This is Clarkson-level journalism

You state opinion as fact. I'm not sure why you do that.

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Re: Re: This is Clarkson-level journalism

'Some people' clearly includes you.

Do you know *anything* about the horrible side effects of fracking? Or the immense energy cost?

No. You don't. Because you're too ideologically blinkered to deal with reality honestly on this topic.

Here's just one study:

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/05/02/1100682108

Here's another. (It's by lawyers, not scientist, so you don't need to worry about difficult words in this one.)

http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/hydraulic_fracturing_fracking

There are others.

Come back and write an informed feature when you've bothered to do some basic research.

Maybe you'll be mistaken for a proper journalist then, and not someone with an ideological axe to grind and a (rather small and insignificant, all things considered) bully pulpit to grind it on.

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